Research & Testing
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.
Buying, Testing, and Rating
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 8,500+ 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.
Product Owner Surveys
Consumer Reports’ product ratings are unique in that they combine product performance, measured through expert lab testing, with predicted reliability and owner satisfaction data gathered through surveys of product owners. The latter two measures are based on consumers’ real-world experiences with products they have purchased and reflect consumers’ use of products over time. By combining lab performance testing with data based on the experiences of hundreds of thousands of real consumers, Consumer Reports ratings give consumers the most complete information on what they can expect from each product.
Data on product reliability and owner satisfaction is gathered through regular surveys of Consumer Reports members. In these surveys, respondents answer questions about the products they own—in that way, Consumer Reports members are true partners in our product rating process! Survey questions typically include how long the respondent has owned a particular product, how often they use it, whether it has broken or stopped working as well as it should, what types of problems the product has had, and whether they would recommend the product to someone else. We also ask survey participants to tell us in their own words what they do and do not like about the product they own and to describe in more detail any problems they may have experienced.
In a typical year we invite roughly 3 million Consumer Reports members to participate in our online product surveys, and gather product reliability and satisfaction data in up to 40 product categories. Our expert team of survey methodologists and data analysts use that data to calculate the predicted reliability and owner satisfaction scores you see for each brand in a specific product category. Our surveys are a powerful and unique tool, enabling us to gather data from a large enough sample of consumers to be able to rate specific brands across a large number of product categories.
As with all the research and testing Consumer Reports does, our surveys are designed to gather unbiased, objective information from consumers and our analyses are conducted free of any corporate or industry influence. Read here for more about how our member surveys are conducted and how the resulting data is used to calculate product reliability and owner satisfaction for all product categories other than autos. A description of how reliability is calculated for autos can be found here.
In addition to conducting surveys with members, Consumer Reports has a robust and rigorous national survey program that tracks American consumers’ attitudes, perceptions and behaviors over time. Our national surveys use gold standard research methodology to produce data that is representative of the US adult population. We invest in large sample sizes, and include Spanish translation and Asian-American oversampling to ensure we can identify diversity in consumer experiences across key demographics such as age, gender, income, and racial/ethnic identity. Our national survey program is committed to understanding and measuring the full range of experiences and issues faced by US consumers. We use those insights to inform our content and testing, shape advocacy efforts, and develop products and services that best meet the needs of today’s consumers.
Consumer Reports currently fields a monthly, nationally representative omnibus survey, the results of which are available on Consumer Reports.org and are also available on request. In addition, in a typical year our expert national survey team conducts a dozen or more special topic surveys on timely consumer issues. Consumer Reports is a proud member of The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, and toplines from our national surveys can be found in the Roper Center database. Our national survey team adheres to the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers’ Code of Ethics and are active members of the professional survey research community.
The digital marketplace is more complex and connected than ever before. Technology and the rapid pace of innovation are creating new challenges for consumers, different from those they confronted in 1936 when CR was founded. CR is compelled to meet these challenges head-on. We are unleashing the power of consumer-driven insights to fuel change and innovation, and developing new ways to shape the marketplace in favor of consumers.
CR Data Intelligence is a new marketplace change program. The goal: to foster the development of products, standards, and policies that prioritize safety, security, performance, and quality for consumers. We call it “upstream impact”—improving products and services before they get to market.
For over 80 years CR has helped consumers to make better choices. Now we can contribute to making the products themselves better.
How CR Data Intelligence Works
CR independently tests thousands of products and services in our labs each year and surveys hundreds of thousands of consumers about their experiences with products and services. Personal data from this research is not shared. We decide which products to rate and buy all the products at retail, just as consumers do. We rely on this data to power our unbiased ratings and reviews for consumers.
CR Data Intelligence offers subscriptions to data and insights from CR’s rigorous and trusted research, testing, and surveys to industry experts, including manufacturers, regulators, and researchers. As with all our programs, products, and services, 100 percent of the fees we collect support our nonprofit mission.