My Consumer Report Visit – No Free Rides

I’ve teamed up with Consumer Reports and am proud to be one of their paid brand ambassadors; my personal opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Consumer Reports.

“We buy all the products we test, review, and rate” was the reoccurring theme that stuck in my mind during my visit to Consumer Reports headquarters. I’ll be completely transparent and say that as a tech blogger, it’s easy to let bias leak into the products that I highlight, feature, review and recommend. Personally speaking, my site is about my own experiences, so I do have my own brand favorites that subconsciously (and consciously) bleed into my blog posts.

Another reason is because there are brands out there looking to be exposed to the folks who read my site and are willing to send review units and sponsor campaigns in exchange for hopefully positive exposure. Another fact – There are many more blog sites, while trying to remain “fair and balanced”, face similar challenges – How to provide valuable information on consumer goods that readers will value, without playing favorites.

That’s why my trip to Consumer Reports would prove to be more eye opening than I originally thought. For those who aren’t familiar, Consumer Reports was “that magazine your Dad used to read before buying that family washer, dryer, vacuum, or TV.” For years, the magazine did its job and did it well – Providing honest, non-biased reviews to consumers on all kinds of products, in an attempt to help make the world a fairer, safer, healthier place.

Of course, as everything went digital, it opened up the playing field for anybody with an internet connection to evolve as “Subject Matter Expert” and provide their opinions, in exchange for page-views and ad dollars. On one hand, that was a good thing because anybody with a little passion and hustle could build a digital platform that could rival, well…Consumer Reports.

On the other hand, the race for said page-views and ad dollars no doubt paved the way for consumer brands and digital outlets to highlight only the content that was equally beneficial to the brand, then the outlet, then the consumer (in that order).

Back to Consumer Reports and my trip to the headquarters. The folks as CR know they have to keep up with the times, all while still remaining a purposeful and optimistic organization focused on improving lives.

So they invited a group of influential individuals to the headquarters in New York for an inside look at the non-profit, non-partisan organization independent of corporate and advertising. One we all trust. Plus, we got a sneak-eek at the new revived and vibrant Consumer Reports with plans to attract a new age of consumers and followers.

consumer reports logo

First on our list of to-dos was attending the Consumer Reports Annual Meeting. It wasn’t the huge, extravagant shindig that most large companies throw, but it was a small, quaint event that highlighted the organizations’ refreshed branding. The goal was to formally reveal the new direction of the organization, and hear a few words from the Consumer Reports new President, Marta L. Tellado, Ph.D. who re-iterated that while the organization is evolving, it will remain a trusted outlet for consumers:

“Though our colors may be new, the principles they reflect are timeless and unshakable. We will never compromise our ironclad independence. We will never sacrifice substance for style. We will never deliver anything short of best-in-class testing and reporting. And, as we have for 80 years and counting, we will never stop listening to you—and working with you—to provide smarter choices for a better world.”

Of course, the highlight of the trip was visiting the CR headquarters. Our guide gave us a “day in the life” tour of some of the testing labs, and the people who actually do the work behind the scenes. One of those testers was Amy Keating, who gave us some insight on gelatin coloring, and some of the other tricks food brands play with our senses and how they can have an impact on how consumers judge everyday products.

One of my favorite labs was the cell phone testing lab, where testers gave us a breakdown as to how they get their phones to evaluate…They stand in line on launch day and pay for them just like the rest of us. Again, CR testers do not get free pre-launch devices directly from the manufacturers.

So the pressure of providing a positive review in hopes to continue to get free devices to test is not a concern…Of course the phone testers took extra-precaution for some of the newer smartphones that have been in the news recently.

consumer reports galaxy note 7 test devices

Speaking of reviews, in an attempt to freshen up the brand, CR has revamped its rating system an moved to a more universally understood scale where red is poor and dark green is excellent. To appeal to the new video-centric content we all expect, CR buying guides have also been overhauled with added interactive videos and a brand-new video hub with advanced search and 360-degree videos that aid the decision-making process.

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It’s not lost on Consumer Reports that the game has changed as it plans to appeal to a broader base by providing a wide range of content like the always well-received holiday buying guides that are super-popular around this time of year. Since I’m a techie, I would be remiss if I didn’t reference this ‘Holiday Gifts for the Gadget Geek’ article as an example of the type of relevant digital content users can look forward to from CR.

Just in time for the Holidays, The Consumer Reports 2016 Holiday Gift Guide in its entirety will help you find deals on consumer electronics, appliances and home-related products, automotive gear, and more. You’ll also find healthy-holiday and money tips from our experts.

I managed to have nice conversation with one of the automotive testers about the future of electric cars, as well as take an up-close and personal look at one of the test electrical vehicles CR had on hand.

consumer reports tesla test vehicle

On the flip side, keeping in tradition with what made Consumer Reports the brand it is today, it plans to test more than 4,000 products, leveraging the expertise of hundreds of specially trained analysts, engineers, editors and researchers, product testers, and experts. Consumer Reports also plans to continue to publish numerous articles on major consumer topics such as keeping your money safe, choosing smart healthcare options, making sense of all the new gadgets and technologies and continuing to advocate in Congress for your rights and protection for consumers.

Our trip ended with several sessions on tech, health, and money where the folks at Consumer Reports really wanted to hear from us on the new direction of CR and get our suggestions on how they can have a greater impact on digital consumers like our readers who may not be familiar with the Consumer Reports brand. In a way, you could say that we tested and reviewed Consumer Reports in order to give our recommendation on its new direction.

All in all, it was a very informative trip. I met new people and there were things I learned about Consumer Reports that definitely left an impact on me. Like I mentioned earlier, CR does not get any free products to review, nor do they accept any advertising to turn a profit. Conversely, CR is a non-profit organization that operates solely on the profit it generates from digital and magazine subscriptions as well as donations. Speaking of which, Giving Tuesday is November 29th. If you do choose to donate to CR, your tax-deductible gift will be doubled.

consumer reports iPhone test devices

…I still find it hard to believe that when the iPhone 7 was released, Consumer Reports testers were standing in line in front of the Apple Store waiting to buy 7 or 8 devices, just to scratch up the screens, dunk them in water, and test the battery life, in order to provide a non-biased recommendation that many of us take for granted in this “Ooh look at us – We got the phone before anybody else” digital age.

I’ve teamed up with Consumer Reports and am proud to be one of their paid brand ambassadors; my personal opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Consumer Reports.

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