Which? is naming and shaming the companies responsible for the biggest consumer letdowns of the year in its inaugural Shoddies, as it challenges firms to up their game.
To be nominated for a Shoddy, companies had to fall short on one of the following criteria: failing an industry standard, potentially breaking the law, causing consumer harm or confusion or regularly underperforming in the consumer champion’s customer surveys or lab tests.
After Which? experts nominated contenders from their testing, customer surveys and investigations from the last year, a judging panel from across the organisation selected this year’s Shoddies, which include:
Facebook: Fake review trading groups
Every year since 2018, Which? has uncovered groups trading in fake reviews on Facebook. This is despite Facebook making commitments to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to better identify, investigate and respond to the trading of fake reviews.
The consumer champion estimates that the groups it has reported to the platform total 1.5 million members. Which? has repeatedly shared its findings with Facebook, but as recently as April this year, found a further 14 groups trading in reviews for Amazon, Google and Trustpilot, sharing more than 62,000 members between them.
Telecoms providers with record mid-contract price hikes
All telecoms providers with above inflation mid-contract price hikes have been awarded a Shoddy this year. Many customers of broadband and mobile providers – such as BT, EE, Plusnet, Shell Energy Broadband, TalkTalk, Three and Vodafone – have to agree to the cost of their deal rising in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) – plus an extra 3% to 3.9% – every spring. This year, this typically led to price hikes of 14.4 per cent.
Even worse, some mobile providers, such as EE and Three, apply their price increase to both the handset and airtime elements of contracts, so customers pay even more for their phones. Virgin Media and O2 also use the outdated Retail Price Index (RPI) – which is typically even higher than CPI – as a basis for their price rises, leading to price hikes of 17.3 per cent for O2 customers in 2023.
Customers locked into these contracts face an impossible choice between a huge increase to their monthly bill, or paying hefty exit fees to switch to a cheaper deal. Which? is calling on providers to stop the practice of above inflation mid-contract hikes – especially where consumers are hit with costly exit fees – to ensure customers are not trapped in this situation year after year.
Wizz Air: The UK’s worst airline
Wizz Air received a Shoddy for falling short in our annual airlines survey – getting a score of just 48 per cent in 2022. This made it the worst airline serving the UK – facing stiff competition in an industry where dreadful customer service is common and many airlines have poor records on how they treat passengers when flights are delayed or cancelled.
Which? also looked at county court judgments for six airlines in March this year – the five biggest in the UK and Wizz Air – and, despite being the smallest in terms of passenger numbers, Wizz Air accounted for almost half – it was recorded as owing £2.2 million to customers. These are cases where the airline has done such a bad job at paying passengers compensation or other sums of money they are owed that they are left with no choice but to apply to the courts.
Wizz Air admitted the pandemic had led to issues but said it had settled hundreds of CCJs and was working to resolve those outstanding as soon as possible, though it said postal issues had caused delays. Affected customers can contact Wizz Air directly.
Tesco: Unclear Clubcard pricing
Tesco received a Shoddy for failing to display unit pricing on its Clubcard offers. Unit pricing – the price per 100g or 100ml, for example – helps shoppers to compare the prices of different products and make informed decisions about what to buy, which is particularly important during the cost of living crisis.
Which? believes that Tesco’s failure to include unit pricing on its Clubcard offers could be a misleading practice under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs). Tesco said its pricing practices have been checked and endorsed by Trading Standards.
After Which? reported Tesco to the CMA amid concerns the practice was potentially illegal, the supermarket announced plans to add unit pricing to Clubcard offers, starting in the new year. Which? looks forward to Tesco making good on these plans.
Alfa Romeo: Unreliable motors
Alfa Romeo earned a Shoddy for performing poorly in Which?’s annual survey of more than 49,000 car owners – receiving just one star for brand reliability across the three age groups of cars. Four in 10 (39%) Alfas aged 0 – 4 years old had a fault in the 12 months covered by last year’s survey, and around one in eight (14%) of cars broke down.
For those in the 5-9 year-old group, around four in 10 (43%) faced at least one fault, and with older 10-15-year-old models, over half (53%) suffered a fault and one in five (17%) had at least one breakdown.
Screen readers are essential for blind or partially sighted consumers who want to enjoy television programmes. However, across the TV brands Which? tested in 2022, Hisense did not include a screen reader, while Panasonic, Philips and Sony only had screen readers on their higher-end models – earning them all a Shoddy for their lack of accessibility.
LG and Samsung have shown that it is possible to have accessibility features across an entire line-up of TVs, so there is no excuse for these other big brands not to step up and deliver too.
Babyzen Yoyo Connect
Which? testing found that the Babyzen Yoyo Connect, which converts a single stroller into a pushchair for two children, had a safety issue with its handlebar and design. In testing, it proved difficult to safely tilt the pushchair up onto kerbs: it has two handles, and if using the rear handle closest to you to tilt the buggy, then the stroller pivots in the centre and tips forward.
During the handlebar test, the handlebar snapped on one side. It is also hard to manoeuvre, has a bumpy ride and the handlebar is uncomfortably narrow. Babyzen says the product is safe to use and compliant with the European General Product Safety Directive.
Boots/Beurer/Béaba: Unreliable digital thermometers
Three unreliable digital thermometers – the Boots Bluetooth Enabled Non-Contact Thermometer, Beurer FT 95 NonContact Thermometer and the Béaba Thermospeed Infrared Ear and Forehead Thermometer – all received a Shoddy for failing to measure temperatures accurately. They gave readings that were too low, which could mean people delay seeking medical attention for a feverish temperature. International standards state that thermometers can be out by up to 0.3°C, but the Boots thermometer was 0.7°C too cool, on average. All three companies said that their products are tested in line with British and European legislative standards.
Ele Clark, Which? Retail Editor, said:
“Our inaugural Shoddies aim to push firms to do better, by highlighting the products, services and business practices that have fallen short and let consumers down over the last year.
“During an unrelenting cost of living crisis, we should all be able to expect high-quality products and services for our money. All the companies named and shamed in this year’s Shoddies need to up their game and offer consumers the value for money and services they deserve.”
Notes to editors:
To be nominated for a Shoddy, companies had to fall short on one of the following criteria: failing an industry standard, potentially breaking the law, causing consumer detriment or confusion or regularly underperforming in the consumer champion’s customer surveys or lab tests.
The consumer champion’s in-house experts nominated some of the biggest letdowns from their testing, customer surveys and investigations from the last year. A judging panel from across Which? then selected this year’s Shoddies. Timeliness was also a factor: we judged all the Shoddies on some of the biggest issues we’ve seen this year.
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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