arts & entertainment
On the watch
ARCHIVE PHOTOS COURTESY OF CONSUMER REPORTS
Consumer Reports sets the standard
By Stephanie E. Ponder
FOR THE PAST 75 years, readers have turned
to Consumer Reports to help them make
informed buying decisions. The magazine,
published by the nonprofit Consumers Union,
tests and rates thousands of products a year—
from socks to pasta sauce and kitchen appliances to health-care plans.
The magazine’s milestones include the use
of its coverage of cigarettes in the 1964 landmark report issued by the Surgeon General’s
Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health,
consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s eight-year
tenure on the board of the Consumers Union
and changes made to products that received
“Not Acceptable” designations from the magazine. (For example, in 2010 the Lexus GX 460
earned a “Don’t Buy: Safety Risk” rating
because of an emergency handling problem.
Lexus recalled the model, fixed the problem
and Consumer Reports lifted the designation.)
Today, the magazine is complemented by
an online component (
org) and a sister publication, ShopSmart. A staff
of 600—testers, editors, technical staff and representatives in places such as Washington,
D.C., and San Francisco—gets information
from the testing facility to readers.
Consumer Reports’ editor in chief, Kim
Kleman, spoke with The Connection from
CR’s headquarters in New York.
Costco Connection: At its core, what is
Consumer Reports all about?
Kim Kleman: We’re more than just a maga-
zine that provides information about products
people buy. Our subscribers feel they’re part of
an organization. [They] have to believe in our
mission. The ratings are the core of what we
do. We strive to get the best information to our
subscribers so they’ll get the most for their
money, especially in these times.
CC: How does the magazine remain objective?
KK: We don’t take advertising. The money
we use to run the tests and our operations
comes from our subscribers. In an organization like ours, we don’t want there to be a
speck of doubt.
We have absolutely no reason to steer
[subscribers] to one item versus another. We
do testing that’s repeatable and give every
model a fair shot.
[Additionally] there’s never any use of our
logo on anything. It raises questions about a
pay-to-play sort of thinking. The consumer is
our only constituent. We don’t want a company to get rich using our name or by saying
that it’s a Consumer Reports best buy.
CC: How do you test for everyday usage?
KK: When we are investigating a product we
might see what the national standards are. We
adhere to federal standards and go above and
[From there] we often have to create our
own test to best reproduce [how] a real consumer might use something.
Extensive product testing has been a
hallmark of Consumer Reports over
its 75-year history.
We have 50 testing labs that offer a definite expertise in a variety of products and
tests. We sometimes go to outside labs for
specific tests that we supervise.
CC: Have your ;ndings ever been challenged?
KK: In our 75 years of testing, we’ve been sued
16 times. We sometimes get things wrong; we
try to get it right. Our tests are designed to be
After our tests, anyone who wants to see
our data for their item can come in and see
our results. We try to be as transparent as we
can possibly be.
CC: Can you talk a little about ShopSmart?
KK: For Consumer Reports, our typical reader
really relishes research. He wants to know how
the top product compares to the 30th.
For ShopSmart we asked, “What about
people who just want to know that there’s
somebody who’s tested them all and what’s
Our challenge is figuring [out] how peo-
ple want to access the content [and] to make
it relevant. We need to make sure we’re testing
the stuff our subscribers need us to test. C
DECEMBER 2011 ;e Costco Connection 35
The Costco Connection
Consumer Reports and ShopSmart are
available in most Costco warehouses. The
January 2012 issue of Consumer Reports will
be bagged with the 2012 Buying Guide.