What Is Consumer Reports?

Consumer Reports is a publication and independent, nonprofit member organization that has evaluated more than 9,000 consumer products and services since 1936. The publication is printed monthly and its buying guides, tests, evaluations, and comparisons are all based on the magazine's own in-house testing. The organization maintains an office in Washington, D.C. to lobby the federal government on consumer issues.

Key Takeaways

  • Consumer Reports is a publication and independent, nonprofit member organization that has evaluated more than 9,000 consumer products and services since 1936.
  • The magazine allows no outside advertising, has a strict no-commercial-use policy, and prides itself on being objective.
  • The publication charges $10 a month for digital access or $59 a year for access to both digital and print versions of the magazine.
  • Its long history, including consumer advocacy for safe products, was instrumental in lobbying for the addition of seat belts and safety items in vehicles, for example.
  • Today, many product ratings and reviews now proliferate on the Internet, giving fierce competition to older players like the experts and testers at Consumer Reports, who have waned in popularity.

Understanding Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports tests everything from tech products and automobiles, to food, financial, and health services. The magazine allows no outside advertising, has a strict no-commercial-use policy, and prides itself on being objective. It charges $10 a month for digital access or $59 a year for access to both digital and print versions of the magazine.

Consumer Reports has a long history dating back to 1936 when it was called Consumer's Union Reports. Its first issue had reported on milk, cereal, soap, and stockings. The magazine gave recommendations on which products to buy, and which were not acceptable. The group, for example, was instrumental in pushing to remove strontium-90 from dairy products in the 1950s that came about from nuclear testing. It also lobbied for the addition of seat belts and other safety items in vehicles. 

Product Reviews in the Internet Age

The organization enjoyed growing influence as its circulation and subscription revenue rose for decades until the Internet arrived in the late 1990s. The organization was slow to adapt to the new technology and a period of retrenchment followed. It wasn't until well into the 2000s when Consumer Reports (CR) added robust web offerings, though behind a paywall.

Today, many of the product ratings and reviews that had been CR's mainstay have moved to the Internet, and much of it is user-generated. The online landscape is littered with a hodgepodge of sites that let users review everything from restaurants to products to financial services. In the interim, facts and verifiable observations from experts like the product testers at CR have waned.

"Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit membership organization that works side by side with consumers for truth, transparency, and fairness in the marketplace," the organization notes on its website. "We use our rigorous research, consumer insights, journalism, and policy expertise to inform purchase decisions, improve the products and services that businesses deliver, and drive regulatory and fair competitive practices."

"In today’s rapidly evolving world, what we do at Consumer Reports must be as transformative and groundbreaking as the new technologies, products, and services entering people's lives every day. We are passionate about our work because we know how much is at stake for you. We succeed in our mission every time your family gets a little bit safer, your finances get more secure, new technologies get more trustworthy, and the future gets that much brighter. Together we are creating a fairer, safer, and healthier world."