Consumer Reports makes every effort to test representative products in a given category. Our analysts' first priority is determining which products are most-widely available or distributed, selling at the most popular retail outlets within a wide range of prices. Secondarily, CR's analysts seek out new product introductions that have unique features or technological advancements. Prior to finalizing recommendations for testing, we determine a model's market availability to ensure it will be available to consumers for at least three months after our findings are released.
During the next step, staff shoppers buy the products at retail outlets throughout the Northeast U.S. — our offices are in Westchester, New York— or online, never revealing that the purchases are for Consumer Reports. (We want to ensure that we test the same products you'll buy.) When we need to buy best-selling regional brands, we use shoppers across the country. Most significant, and unlike most others who review products and services, we buy everything we test.
In rare instances, when a product isn't in stores yet, we buy it from the manufacturer, revealing this in our report. We'll subsequently test a version that we buy at retail and report on those findings.
Our experts develop tests that recreate the experience you'll have with the product. They also consider industry standards for testing a particular product. Note that those tests usually gauge only a minimum level of performance while our tests aim to find the highest-performing products. We develop tests for those products that lack industry standards for ease of use.
In some cases, an industry standard uses aspects of tests that we developed. For example, we developed an emissions test for vacuums that determines the amount of fine particles that blow back into the air when a model is running. Our tests are conducted when using the vacuum on carpet whereas the industry test had been isolated to only testing the filtration system. The industry then devised its own test that is also based on vacuuming fine particles on carpet and that is now part of the industry standard.
If a product malfunctions or performs in an unexpected way, we try to determine if we're seeing an isolated case or possibly a bigger problem. We might have an obvious defect repaired. And we typically buy and test additional samples of the same model. We do this to ensure our ratings for every model reflect the experience you would have with it too.