Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports cover dated
November 2016
Editor-in-Chief Diane Salvatore[1]
Categories Consumer advocacy
Frequency Monthly
Circulation 3,800,000[2]
Publisher Consumer Reports
First issue January 1936 (1936-01)
Country United States
Language English
ISSN 0010-7174

Consumer Reports is an American magazine published since 1936 by Consumers Union, a nonprofit organization dedicated to unbiased product testing, consumer-oriented research, public education, and advocacy. Consumer Reports publishes reviews and comparisons of consumer products and services based on reporting and results from its in-house testing laboratory and survey research center. The magazine accepts no advertising, pays for all the products it tests, and, as a nonprofit organization has no shareholders. It also publishes general and targeted product/service buying guides. As of April 2016 it had approximately 7 million subscribers (3.8 million print and 3.2 million digital) and an annual testing budget of approximately US$25 million.[2]

Editorial independence

Consumer Reports is well known for its policies on editorial independence, which it says are to "maintain our independence and impartiality... [so that] CU has no agenda other than the interests of consumers."[3][4] CR has unusually strict requirements and sometimes has taken extraordinary steps; for example it declined to renew a car dealership's bulk subscription because of "the appearance of an impropriety".[5]

Consumer Reports does not allow outside advertising in the magazine[3][4] but its website has retailers' advertisements. Consumer Reports states that PriceGrabber places the ads and pays a percentage of referral fees to CR,[6] who has no direct relationship with the retailers.[7] Consumer Reports publishes reviews of its business partner and recommends it in at least one case.[8] CR had a similar relationship with BizRate at one time[9] and has had relationships with other companies including,[10] Yahoo!,[11] The Wall Street Journal; The Washington Post;[12] BillShrink;[13] and[14] CR also accepts grants from other organizations,[15] and at least one high-ranking Consumer Reports employee has gone on to work for a company he evaluated.[16]

CR also forbids the use of its reviews for selling products; for example, it will not allow a manufacturer to advertise a positive review.[3] CR has gone to court to enforce that rule.[17]

Consumer Reports says its staff purchases all tested products at retail prices, anonymously in "most cases",[6] and that they accept no free samples in order to prevent bias from bribery or from being given better than average samples.[3] However, in order to review some products before they are publicly available CR does accept "press samples" from manufacturers but says it pays for the samples and does not include them in ratings.[6] For most of CR's history it minimized contact with government and industry experts "to avoid compromising the independence of its judgment." In 2007, in response to errors in infant car seat testing, it began accepting advice from a wide range of experts on designing tests, but not on final assessments.[18] Also, at times CR allows manufacturers to review and respond to criticism before publication.[4]

Some objective and comparative tests published by Consumer Reports are carried out under the umbrella of the international consumer organization International Consumer Research & Testing. Consumer Reports also uses outside labs for testing, including for 11 percent of tests in 2006.[18]

Ancillary publications, the related website is largely available only to paid subscribers. provides updates on product availability, and adds new products to previously-published test results. In addition, the online data includes coverage that is not published in the magazine; for example, vehicle reliability (frequency of repair) tables online extend over the full 10 model years reported in the Annual Questionnaires, whereas the magazine has only a six-year history of each model.

In 1990, Consumers Union launched Consumer Reports Television.[19] By March 2005 it was "hosted" by over 100 stations.[20][21]

On August 1, 2006 Consumers Union launched ShopSmart, a magazine aimed at young women.[22]

In 2008, Consumers Union acquired The Consumerist blog from Gawker Media.

Magazine copies distributed in Canada include a small four-page supplement called "Canada Extra", explaining how the magazine's findings apply to that country and lists the examined items available there.

In 2002, Consumers Union launched the grant-funded project Consumer Reports WebWatch, which aimed to improve the credibility of Web sites through investigative reporting, publicizing best-practices standards, and publishing a list of sites that comply with the standards. WebWatch worked with the Stanford Web Credibility Project, Harvard University's Berkman Center, The Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, and others. WebWatch is a member of ICANN, the W3C and the Internet Society. Its content is free. As of July 31, 2009, WebWatch has been shut down, though the site is still available.

Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs is available free on Consumer Reports It compares prescription drugs in over 20 major categories, such as heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes, and gives comparative ratings of effectiveness and costs, in reports and tables, in web pages and PDF documents, in summary and detailed form.[23]

Also in 2005 Consumers Union launched the service Greener Choices, which is meant to "inform, engage, and empower consumers about environmentally-friendly products and practices." It contains information about conservation, electronics recycling and conservation with the goal or providing an "accessible, reliable, and practical source of information on buying “greener” products that have minimal environmental impact and meet personal needs."

Consumers Union published a kids' version of Consumer Reports called Penny Power, later changed to Zillions.[24] This publication was similar to Consumer Reports but served a younger audience. At its peak, the magazine covered close to 350,000 subscribers.[25] It gave children financial advice for budgeting their allowances and saving for a big purchase, reviewed kid-oriented consumer products (e.g., toys, clothes, electronics, food, videogames, etc.), and generally promoted smart consumerism in kids and teens; testing of products came from kids of the age range a product was targeted toward. It also taught kids about deceitful marketing practices practiced by advertising agencies. The magazine folded in 2000.[26]


See also the history of Consumers Union

Consumers Want to Know, a 1960 documentary on Consumer Reports

As of 2007, 4.3 million people read the magazine, and 2.8 million people subscribed to the website.[27]

Product changes after Consumer Reports tests

The Consumer Reports auto test track in East Haddam, Connecticut.

In the July 1978 issue, Consumer Reports rated the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon automobile "not acceptable", the first car it had judged such since the AMC Ambassador in 1968. In its testing they found the possibility of these models developing an oscillatory yaw as a result of a sudden violent input to the steering; the manufacturer claimed that "Some do, some don't" show this behavior, but it has no "validity in the real world of driving".[28] Nevertheless, the next year, these models included a lighter weight steering wheel rim and a steering damper; Consumer Reports reported that the previous instability was no longer present.

In a 2003 issue of CR, the magazine tested the Nissan Murano crossover utility vehicle. Consumer Reports did not recommend the vehicle because of a problem with its power steering, even though the vehicle had above-average reliability. The specific problem was that the steering would stiffen substantially on hard turning. Consumer Reports recommended the 2005 model, which addressed this problem.

BMW changed the software for the stability control in its X5 SUV after replicating a potential rollover problem discovered during a Consumer Reports test.[29]

Chrysler also made changes to stability control software when Consumer Reports testing with the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee exposed handling issues.[30]

In 2010, Consumer Reports rated the 2010 Lexus GX 460 SUV unsafe after the vehicle failed one of the magazine's emergency safety tests. Toyota temporarily suspended sales of the vehicle, and after conducting its own test acknowledged the problem. A recall for the vehicle was issued, and the vehicle passed a Consumer Reports re-test.[31]

Lawsuits against Consumers Union

Consumers Union has been sued several times by companies unhappy with reviews of their products in Consumer Reports. Consumers Union has fought these cases vigorously.[32] As of October 2000, Consumers Union had been sued by 13 manufacturers, and never lost a case.[33][34]


In 1971 Bose Corporation sued Consumer Reports (CR) magazine for libel after CR reported in a review that the sound from the system it reviewed "tended to wander about the room".[35] The case eventually reached the United States Supreme Court, which affirmed in Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc. that CR's statement was made without actual malice and therefore was not libelous.[36][37][38]


In 1988, Consumer Reports announced during a press conference that the Suzuki Samurai had demonstrated a tendency to roll and deemed it "not acceptable." Suzuki sued in 1996 after the Samurai was again mentioned in a CR anniversary issue. In July 2004, after eight years in court, the suit was settled and dismissed with no money changing hands and no retraction issued, but Consumers Union did agree no longer to refer to the 16-year-old test results of the 1988 Samurai in its advertising or promotional materials.[39]

Rivera Isuzu

In December 1997, the Isuzu Trooper distributor in Puerto Rico sued CR, alleging that it had lost sales as a result of CU's disparagement of the Trooper. A trial court granted CU's motion for summary judgment, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the favorable judgment.[40]

Sharper Image

In 2003, Sharper Image sued CR in California for product disparagement over negative reviews of its Ionic Breeze Quadra air purifier. CR moved for dismissal on October 31, 2003, and the case was dismissed in November 2004. The decision also awarded CU $525,000 in legal fees and costs.[41][42]

Controversy over child safety seats

The February 2007 issue of Consumer Reports stated that only two of the child safety seats it tested for that issue passed the magazine's side impact tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which subsequently retested the seats, found that all those seats passed the corresponding NHTSA tests at the speeds described in the magazine report. The CR article reported that the tests simulated the effects of collisions at 38.5 mph. However, the tests that were completed in fact simulated collisions at 70 mph.[43] CR stated in a letter from its president Jim Guest to its subscribers that it would retest the seats. The article was removed from the CR website, and on January 18, 2007, the organization posted a note on its home page about the misleading tests. Subscribers were also sent a postcard apologizing for the error.

On January 28, 2007, The New York Times published an op-ed from Joan Claybrook, who served on the board of CU from 1982 to 2006 (and was the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977 to 1981), where she discussed the sequence of events leading to the publishing of the erroneous information.[44]

Other errors or issues

In 2006, Consumer Reports said six hybrid vehicles would probably not save owners money. The magazine later discovered that it had miscalculated depreciation, and released an update stating that four of the seven vehicles would save the buyer money if the vehicles were kept for five years (including the federal tax credit for hybrid vehicles, which expires after each manufacturer sells 60,000 hybrid vehicles).[45]

In February 1998, the magazine tested pet food and claimed that Iams dog food was nutritionally deficient. It later retracted the report claiming that there had been "a systemic error in the measurements of various minerals we tested – potassium, calcium and magnesium."[46]


Harvey Balls - red black modification used by Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports graphs formerly used a modified form of Harvey Balls for qualitative comparison. The round ideograms are arranged from best to worst. The open red circle on the left in the diagram indicates the highest rating, the half red and white symbol is the second highest rating, while the open black circle is neutral. The lowest rating is the filled in black circle, while the second lowest rating is the half black circle.[47]

As part of a wider rebranding of Consumer Reports in September 2016, the appearance of the magazine's rating system was significantly revamped. The Harvey balls were replaced with new color-coded circles with arrow icons, ranging from red for Poor, orange for Fair, yellow for Good, lime for Very Good, and green for Excellent. It was stated that this new system would help to improve the clarity of ratings tables by using an "universally understood" metaphor.[48][49]

See also


  1. Kelly, Keith J. (2015-06-09). "Consumer Reports kills magazine, sparks labor dispute". New York Post. Retrieved 2016-01-22.
  2. 1 2 Hiebert, Paul (April 13, 2016). "'Consumer Reports' in the Age of the Amazon Review". The Atlantic. Retrieved October 12, 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Our Mission". Consumers Union. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 Perez-Pena, Richard (8 Dec 2007). "Success Without Ads". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  5. Wald, Matthew (14 Apr 2001). "Consumer Reports Refuses to Renew a Mass Subscription". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  6. 1 2 3 Guest, Jim (Nov 2009). "From our president". Consumer Reports. Consumers Union. Retrieved 2012-11-02.
  7. "Buy Kenmore 6002[2]". Consumer Reports. Consumers Union. Retrieved 2012-11-02.
  8. "Start your engines!". Consumer Reports. Consumers Union. Oct 2010. Retrieved 2012-11-02.
  9. Tedeschi, Bob (27 Oct 2003). "MediaTalk; Critics Take Wary View Of Shopping Web Link". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  10. "Technology Briefing: Internet; Amazon to Offer Consumer Reports". The New York Times. 7 Dec 2000. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  11. "Technology Briefing / E-Commerce: Yahoo To Sell Consumer Reports Research". The New York Times. 5 Jun 2001. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  12. "Consumer Reports: Foods can contain surprising, even alarming, ingredients". The Washington Post. 2011-09-12. Retrieved 2011-09-13.
  13. Geron, Tomio (2011-04-26). "Consumer Reports Partners with BillShrink to Help Consumers Find the Best Deals On Wireless Plans, Credit Cards and TV and Cable Packages". Forbes. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
  14. Perez, Sarah (2011-11-23). " & Consumer Reports Partner On New Deals Site". TechCrunch. AOL. Retrieved 2011-11-29.
  15. Collins, Glenn (13 Aug 2012). "Consumer Reports Receives $2 Million Grant for Food Safety Study13". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-14.
  16. "David Champion, Director of Automotive Testing for Consumer Reports, Joins Nissan". The New York Times. 22 Aug 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  17. Dougherty, Phillip (10 Oct 1983). "ADVERTISING; Regina Still Restrained On Consumer Reports". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  18. 1 2 Seelye, Katharine (21 Mar 2007). "Magazine Will Begin Consulting With Experts". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  19. Mifflin, Lawrie (2 Sep 1996). "Consumer Reports Forges a TV Identity". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  20. "Nearly 100 stations now hosting Consumer Reports Television". Consumers Union. 23 Mar 2005. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  21. "Consumers Union Press Releases". Consumers Union. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  22. Aspan, Maria (24 Jul 2006). "Consumer Reports to Add Shopping Magazine". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  23. "Consumer Reports Drug Reports". Consumer Reports. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  24. Archived July 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. Story, Louise (11 Apr 2007). "Consumer Reports restructures after mishap". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  28. "Storm over the Omni Horizon", Time, 26 June 1978.
  29. "No Test Dummies" Fortune, 11 June 2007
  30. "2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Handling Concerns Resolved - KickingTires". Retrieved 2012-06-14.
  31. Leonard, David. "Consumer Reports maintains old-school values". Bloomberg Businessweek/MSNBC. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  32. "Getting Tools Used" (PDF). Center for Advancing Health. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  33. Finn, Robin (5 Oct 2000). "PUBLIC LIVES; Still Top Dog, Consumers' Pit Bull to Retire". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  34. Eldridge, Earle (8 Apr 2004). "Consumers Union, Suzuki settle suit over tipping claim". USA Today. USA Today. Retrieved 2013-02-24.
  35. Bose Corporation vs. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 367 Mass. 424 (Mass. 1975).
  36. Commentary on libel cases in general giving a specific example of Bose Corp. v. Consumer's Union of United States. Archived March 8, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  37. "Opinion: Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union - 466 U.S. 485 (1984)". United States Supreme Judicial Court. Justia.
  38. "Editorial: A Sound Affirmation". New York Times. 2 May 1984. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  39. Hakim, Danny. "Suzuki Resolves a Dispute With a Consumer Magazine", The New York Times, 9 July 2004.
  40. Legal Watch Defamation Claim Arising from Consumer Report Dismissed
  41. Quackwatch article
  42. InfomercialWatch article
  43. Detroit News
  44. Joan Claybrook (2007-01-28). "Crash Test Dummies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-01-29. How the testing mistake was made is instructive not only for Consumer Reports but for everyone who cares about public safety.
  45. "Update: This is a revised report on "The dollars and sense of hybrids"". Consumers Union. September 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-11-30. Retrieved 2007-01-29.
  46. "Consumer Reports' good reputation takes hit from flawed car seats report". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 2007-02-05.
  47. "Another Pogue Challenge: Symbols With Meaning". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  48. "Consumer Reports undergoes makeover". USA Today. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  49. "We Put Ourselves to the Test". Consumer Reports. Retrieved 24 September 2016.

External links

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