CONSUMER REPORTS: NOT JUST YOUR MOM’S RATINGS AND REVIEWS
I have always loved getting a deeper look at the people and processes that help impact change. Whether it’s going behind the scenes to see how windows are made at a blisteringly hot sheet glass factory in Thailand, learning how volunteers are helping children climb out of poverty at a heroic school near a garbage dump in Guatemala, or watching as a fast-paced public relations firm in Chicago creatively brainstorms to promote some of the world’s largest brands, I love to see and feel people’s everyday world from the actual spot where they experience it.
As part of a Consumer Reports ambassador program, I was recently invited to tour their headquarters in Yonkers, New York, which included walking through the labs and talking to the people who make it all happen. I suppose getting up close and personal with Consumer Reports might not be very interesting to some people, but for me it was like being a kid on his first trip to Disneyland.
In my short time there I learned that Consumer Reports is more than a reviews and ratings company. It also advocates for consumers and impacts policy, thereby ensuring that the products we use are safer and we, as consumers, are more informed.
CONSUMER REPORTS: THE REVIEWS AND RATINGS PROCESS
Have you ever turned to Consumer Reports when making a serious purchase? My wife lost me to the Consumer Reports web site one weekend when we were making not one, but five, appliance purchases all at one time. It was the first time we were purchasing appliances—let alone all appliances together: washer, dryer, refrigerator, range, and dishwasher— and it was a large sum of money for us. We had delayed making the purchases for so long that we were now in desperation mode, but I refused to simply be swayed by whatever was on sale at the time. I wanted to be sure we made a well-informed choice and bought products that were safe and would last as long as possible—because, clearly, we did not want to be bothered with having to replace them again for a very long time.
Consumer Reports was the first place I turned to ensure I made the best purchasing decision, and I wasn’t disappointed. I dove and I dove deep into that research. By the time I came up for air 48 hours later I knew exactly what brands and models I wanted and what prices I should expect to pay for them. When I went out the next day to purchase them I walked into that store with confidence. When the salesperson tried to encourage me to look at a different model, I politely told him, “No thank you.” When he encouraged me a second time I informed him that Consumer Reports had found that particular model to be prone to breakdowns due to a serious design flaw. Three other customers that had been looking at the model overheard our conversation and suddenly became interested in different brands. From that point on they ignored the salesperson and came to me if they had any questions. I didn’t get a commission, but then I suspect the salesperson didn’t earn many that day either.
I’ve read Consumer Reports for well over 25 years. I’m sure some of you can relate since Consumer Reports is most well-known for its reviews and ratings.
But did you know that Consumer Reports is a nonprofit? Or that they are the largest independent consumer-testing organization in the world? The National Testing and Research Center in Yonkers puts thousands of products to the test each year in over 50 state-of-the-art labs.
Here are a few detailed pieces of information I learned about their review and ratings process that you also might find interesting. Consumer Reports operates the largest and most sophisticated independent automobile testing center devoted to the consumer interest anywhere in the world at its 327-acre auto test track in rural Connecticut. While I didn’t get visit the test track, I did get to see a few of the cars currently being tested and was able to speak with some of their auto experts.
We visited one of the food labs where taste testing is done. Of course, taste is just one part of how food is scored by Consumer Reports. If you’ve ever perused the magazine or web site you’ll find items are given an overall score, but are often graded on additional criteria as well. For example, yogurt is also broken down by nutrition score and sensory score, in addition to package size, price per serving, and price per ounce.
One of the more interesting labs for me was one in which they tested vacuums. From uprights to canisters, to sticks, handhelds, and even robotic vacuums, they tested them all in this lab. I was engrossed by the detailed processes used from weighing the amount of dirt each unit picked up to testing how it did in hard to reach spaces like corners and measuring how closely it cleaned up against walls. The experiments were all objective and intended to compare each model against the other so consumers could make an informed decision. The most disturbing figure I came away with from this lab is that even the highest rated vacuums they test (which I definitely don’t own) only pick up about 65 percent of the test soil. Time to call in a professional carpet cleaner, right?
Are you wondering how Consumer Reports gets the products they test? They probably order them from the manufacturer, right? No way! They go to Best Buy or Macy’s just like you and I do. Purchasing products like the everyday person is part of the Consumer Reports Secret Shopper program to make sure they are testing the same products that typical consumers use.
Consumer Reports goes to great lengths to maintain objectivity and part of that is to purchase every single product they test—from a $7 bottle of sunscreen to a $30,000 car. Now that’s impressive. They do not accept gifts or products from manufacturers. If they receive something, they send it right back.
CONSUMER REPORTS: CONSUMER ADVOCACY AND POLICY
But Consumer Reports is more than just laboratories and engineers. CR has recently undergone a major update to its look and feel, and they shared with us the process they went through to get there. As a marketing junkie I found it fascinating to hear and see the re-branding process. I was impressed that it was just as detailed and comprehensive as the research and analyses that take place daily in the labs at Consumer Reports.
A major part of the Consumer Reports mission includes consumer advocacy. For example, we’ve all seen product recalls in the news. Consumer Reports monitors complaints about products and has used its clout to help bring attention to some of these dangerous issues. The organization was recently involved with the successful effort to urge laundry detergent makers to address the problem of children being injured from ingesting playful-looking liquid-laundry pods.
Another significant part of its mission is to influence policy. They try to guide the rule makers to “elevate commonsense, consumer-friendly rules (legislation and regulation), fight policies that harm consumers, and rebalance market forces to favor consumers’ health, safety, privacy, and financial security.“
At the same time, they also encourage businesses to bring safer, healthier, and more responsible options to market. The combination of these actions brings unprecedented benefits to consumers that include safer products, more accurate labeling, and greater financial protections among others.
Trust me when I say, Consumer Reports is the real deal.
CONSUMER REPORTS: HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
The time Consumer Reports invests reviewing and rating products puts them in a perfect position to make recommendations for holiday gift giving. The Consumer Reports Holiday Gift Guide makes shopping a breeze for parents everywhere looking for top-rated products, tested for both performance and safety. While perusing the online shopping suggestions, you’ll not only find reviews and ratings, but you’ll also be able to read solid information, such as:
- The Best Headphones for Under $125
- The Best Tablets for Kids for the Holidays
- Best Pots and Pans for Your Holiday Feast
- Restaurant Deals You’ll Want to Dive Into
- 3 Ways to Save While at the Outlets
- How to Avoid Package Theft at Home
For all you guys out there who never know what to get your wife or girlfriend for the holidays, trust me! This gift guide is going to make your life easier. But, just in case you need more confidence to know you are making the best purchasing decision for the love of your life, refer her to this post over on my wife’s blog: “How to Get the Gifts You Really Want for the Holidays This Year,” which not only refers her to Consumer Reports Holiday Gift Guide, but also walks her through how to tell you what it is she’s really after. I promise! You’ll thank me later.
I’ve teamed up with Consumer Reports and am proud to be one of their paid brand ambassadors; my personal opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Consumer Reports.