Our consumer product and service testing center, in Westchester, New York, is the largest nonprofit educational and consumer product testing center in the world. And our 327-acre auto test center is the world’s largest and most sophisticated independent automobile testing center devoted to consumer interests.
Data is the basis for virtually all the work that Consumer Reports does. To provide scientific analysis to our testing teams, our investigative reporters, and our policy advocates, we have teams and tools to inform us about industry trends and product categories. We’re able to combine CR members’ feedback with search engine trends and technical data from government, academia, and industry to find the connecting threads underneath the numbers. These insights ensure that our tests reflect how consumers actually use a product, that our testimony to a government panel is fact-based and supportable, and that we can plan for the products we’ll need to purchase in the future to do our work.
We buy and test thousands of products every year to generate reviews and ratings to help consumers, support our investigative journalism and trusted consumer guidance, and advocate for consumer-friendly marketplace practices. Before any product even enters one of the dozens of labs at our Westchester, NY headquarters, CR conducts considerable research — gathering data about products and services, consumer demand in the marketplace, and what our members care about most. Editorial, technical, and research staff then scrutinize that material, along with suggestions from our members, to develop our testing protocols and schedule.
After additional research to define any testing project's scope, staff shoppers or one of our anonymous “secret shoppers” buy the products we use as test samples — in fact, some products, like house paint and food, can vary by climate or region, and because we need to make sure our tests reflect a national consumer experience, we purchase products from across the country. Our shoppers pay full retail and purchase all the products we test to generate our ratings from the same places consumers do; we accept no sample products for testing. And as a nonprofit organization that accepts no advertising, to pay for all this shopping we rely mostly on our millions of members and the hundreds of thousands of donors who support our work. For example, in the coming fiscal year, we expect to spend more than $27 million to test, rate, and review nearly 8,000 products and services.
We have more than 140 testing and research experts who work in our home, cars, technology, product safety, statistics, survey research, food safety, health ratings and market research teams.
Our experts use only state-of-the-art testing equipment, along with some equipment designed by our engineers — since the actual tests are based not only on government and industry standards but also on standards our specialists develop to recreate the experience you'll have with the product. Sometimes our test methods become part of an industry's standards. And sometimes individual companies will work to improve their own competitive advantage by meeting our testing standards for everyday-use cases in their own quality assurance departments.
Throughout our history, we have worked side-by-side with consumers. The earliest example of such partnership is what’s still called our Annual Questionnaire, or “AQ.” Today, the AQ is a sophisticated, year-round operation of communications and data crunching.
Like the rest of Consumer Reports, the Survey Research department is free of corporate influence and advertising. Our surveys are not commissioned or financed by industry. Rather, these surveys are designed to gather unbiased, objective information from consumers.
To conduct the AQ, our Consumer Reports Survey Research department surveys millions of consumers each year using state-of-the-art techniques, collecting feedback on a broad range of real-world experiences with products and services. Survey topics include model-level reliability for cars, trucks, and SUVs; brand reliability for appliances and electronics; and ratings of services such as cell-phone service providers, hotels, airlines, auto and homeowner insurance, and retailers.
Our annual auto owner satisfaction survey yields information on hundreds of models based on responses from hundreds of thousands of car owners. We also survey consumers on financial services, complex healthcare topics, and treatments for health conditions.
We conduct over 100 surveys each year, seeking information from both CR members and Americans at large. Member surveys are sent to a random sampling of the millions of Consumer Reports members, some of the savviest shoppers in the nation. These surveys afford us very large sample sizes and permit the extensive and detailed analysis required to rate brands and retailers across a large number of products and services. The Survey Research department also conducts nationally representative surveys of thousands of Americans, allowing us to represent accurately the entire U.S. population.