Consumer Reports or CR, previously called Consumers Union or CU, is a US-based non-profit organization established with the objective of providing information in areas like investigative journalism, unbiased product testing, consumer-oriented research, consumer advocacy, and public education.
Originated in 1936, Consumer Reports was founded to serve as a reliable source of information that people could use to evaluate the performance and safety of products. From that time onwards, Consumer Reports has moved forward with its assessment of services and products and tried to advocate for the customer in rule-making and legislative areas.
Some of the amendments in which Consumer Reports played a significant role include the dangers of exposure to cigarette smoke, the introduction of seat belt rules and regulations, and recently, the improvement of finance protection of consumers, along with enhanced access to superior health care. The non-profit organization has also undergone a digital transformation and extended its reach to digital platforms.
The headquarters of CR, along with its 50 testing laboratories, are all based in New York, but its car testing track is located in Connecticut. Funded by subscriptions to its website and magazine, Consumer Reports also accepts independent donations and grants. The current CEO of the organization is Marta L. Tellado, and she joined CR in 2014, with the intention of expanding its advocacy and engagement efforts.
The organization’s flagship magazine and website publish reviews of services and consumer products based on the results from its own survey research center and testing labs. CR, being a non-profit organization, does not have any shareholders, pays for all the services and products that are tested, and accepts no advertising.
Advocates and Campaigns of Consumer Reports
CR has many online advocates who are responsible for taking action and then writing letters to policymakers regarding any issues they take on. The group of online advocates continues to increase as CR expands its reach, having over 6 million paid subscribers who have access to online features such as personalized content and a car recall tracker.
It also gives the opportunity to a new group of online members to log in for free and then receive guidance on a wide range of products (i.e., washing machines, gas grills, etc.) at no charge. Consumer Reports has also started many advocacy websites, such as HearUsNow.org that helps consumers with telecommunications policy, licensing, and coordination matters.
In 2005, Consumer Reports campaign PrescriptionforChange.org launched “Drugs I Need”, a satirical short animated film having a song from the musical group Austin Lounge Lizards, which was listed by JibJab, BoingBoing, The New York Times, and numerous other blogs. In 2005, CR also launched GreenerChoices.org, which is a web-based enterprise used for informing, engaging, and empowering the consumers about some of the most environmentally friendly products.
Consumer Reports also sponsored the Safe Patient Project, the goal of which was to help the consumers obtain the best of health care facilities by encouraging the public to know about medical errors and hospital-acquired infection rates. The American CDC states that over 2 million people annually will be infected while receiving treatment in a hospital for a different health care problem. This will result in 99,000 deaths, as well as about $45 billion in additional hospital costs.
The CR campaign has effectively worked in many states calling for regulation requiring hospitals to reveal infection rates to people. It works on prescription drugs, medical devices, and physician accountability.
GreenerChoices.org provides a reliable, practical, and accessible source of info on purchasing ‘greener’ products, which have a negligible effect on the environment and meet personal requirements. The website contains several articles about various products, assessing them on how friendly they are to the environment. It also emphasizes on appliance recycling or electronics reuse, as well as conservation of natural resources and prevention of global warming.
Funding for CR has recently been offered by the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, and USPIRG Education Fund among other organizations.
Consumer Reports on Editorial Independence
CR is renowned for making policies on freedom of editors to make decisions (termed as editorial independence), which it does to maintain impartiality and independence. CR has made it clear that it has no plan other than the welfare of consumers. Consumer Reports has stringent requirements, and it has sometimes taken extraordinary steps. The renewal of an automobile dealership’s mass subscription, for example, was refused because of impropriety.
CR does not let outside advertising to feature in its magazine, although its website contains retailers’ advertisements. It states that PriceGrabber puts the ads and recompensates a part of the referral fees to Consumer Reports, who does not have any direct relationship with their retailers. CR publishes appraisals of its business partner and then recommends it at least once.
A similar relationship once existed with BizRate, and CR has had associations with other organizations, including Yahoo!, Amazon.com, The Washington Post, BillShrink, The Wall Street Journal, and Decide.com. Consumer Reports also receives grants from other establishments.
How can You Log into Consumer Reports
To subscribe and log into the website as a member, you need to visit ConsumerReports.org. Make sure to go through all the available membership options and select the one that suits you. Digital memberships are renewed either on a monthly or annual basis.
Because your membership is automatically renewed, you will not have to renew every month or year actively. Consumer Reports gives you various membership options, including a free one, which needs only your email address and an “All-Access” plan that provides you with the ability to talk with a reviewer at $55 per year.
Through the website Consumerist.com, CR was offering a free trial subscription of one month to ConsumerReports.org back in 2017 and 2018. Since the website Consumerist.com is owned and managed by Consumer Reports, it was able to give you a free trial subscription to CR exclusively.
Is Consumer Reports Reliable?
During recent times, however, CR’s influence has weakened. To some extent, it is expected because the organization has not adapted to the changing media landscape. However, it seems a little surprising that the systematic and rigorous process of reviewing products carried out by Consumer Reports has become less successful to mostly unknown product writeups on the internet, not just by popularity but also public trust.
The maximum number of subscribers of Consumer Reports reached in 2008, as it had almost 8 million subscribers (digital and print combined). It now has approximately 7 million subscribers, out of which 3.2 million are digital, and the remaining 3.8 million are print subscribers.
Although it is a massive subscription base by magazine standards, the worrisome news for CR is that its demographics tilt towards the older people. The average age of print subscribers is 65 years, while the average age of digital subscribers is 56 years.
Be mindful that fake reviews can weaken trust in its platform. Companies such as Yelp and Amazon focus on directing resources toward finding and removing them out. However, fake reviews are hard to detect, and, occasionally, Consumer Reports has eagerly highlighted this weakness.
Finally, the researchers have found that consumers seem to accept as truth the collective wisdom conveyed by Amazon and Yelp about a specific item’s safety, durability, and performance. Although it cannot be said that online reviews have no value and are entirely untrustworthy, it is true that are some serious issues with them. In some situations, it is better to rely on expert tests rather than on online reviews.
While the Consumer Reports magazine can be subscribed for $30 per year, in our opinion, it is worth the money to opt for the digital subscription of Consumer Reports since it provides you with all the data you need in one place. Instead of concentrating on usability and subjective experience, Consumer Reports has adopted an analytical and feature-oriented approach, giving clear information and guidance on different products.