Sunday, June 05, 2005

Consumer Reports: the paradox of a consumer organization that hates its customers

Consumer Reports Ratings and recommendations available at

This would be funny, if it weren't so irritating. I think there are broader lessons here than a single dysfunctional company. Many of us feel the pain of "brand reputation and quality" in a world where price competition is severe and consumers are overwhelmed with choices and making consistently "wrong" (IMHO) value decisions. Consider the story of Consumer Reports and my quest for a reliable air conditioner.

Consumer Reports is an old (once non-profit?) consumer oriented organization. It's not ad supported, I pay to get access to their web site. I went there looking for a quality of service and repair record information on air conditioners [1]. It might be there, but I couldn't find it. So I decided I was annoyed enough to send them some feedback.

So I find it quite amazing that, after 15 minutes of searching, I couldn't find any way to send them feedback on CR's services [1]. Maybe it's there, but it's professionally hidden (they've outsourced their web support to a separate company). I gave up. I expect that kind of thing from, but from Consumer Reports?

Did they get bought out by a some evil entity? Alas, the more likely explanation is that they're far more interested in their newly launched health services rating and education program than they are in providing the services I'm interested in. I suspect a deeply introspective and dysfunctional service company in a non-competitive niche. I wish they'd provide the services I need, but they so dominate this niche that I'm probably still better off paying for the crummy service they provide.

Of course give me an alternative and I'll be gone in a heartbeat ...

Quality of Consumer Reports and their outsourced customer support operation. Quality of Samsung air conditioners. Quality of Best Buy and their outsourced repair services. Getting data and providing feedback. It's a theme.


[1] The feedback was that I don't care about 'air conditioner' test attributes as much as I care about reliability records and quality of service; CR doesn't provide the key data I want. In this case we'd bought a highly rated Samsung air conditioner from Best Buy. It worked for about a year, then it apparently lost coolant. We had it serviced under warrantee by a Best Buy contractor, after a one week repair, and upon later reinstallation, it still doesn't work. We don't have time to waste on this stuff, so we wrote off both Best Buy and Samsung (sorry guys, you only get one chance to deeply annoy us). I went to CR looking for some repair and service measures and couldn't find them. No wonder vendors don't bother to invest in quality!

Update 6/5: To be fair to CR, I wrote out a business plan for their recovery. In a not-unrelated event, today at the gym my one year old delicately handled SONY walkman died on me. I'm replacing it for now with a much abused "Jensen" device that I bought at a garage sale, it was made in China perhaps 8 years ago. Grr. The aggravation of disposable devices is never-ending.

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