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Consumers Union shopping and testing

Shopping Fast Facts
· Consumers Union (CU) takes no free samples from manufacturers. We have a shopping staff that is dedicated to purchasing products for testing at CU's 50 labs.
· Consumers Union currently has 157 shoppers in 30 states.
· Consumers Union has an annual testing budget of approximately $21 million.
· In calendar year 2002, Consumers Union tested 1,863 individual products, including cars.
· Sometimes our out-of-town shopping staff stays in the family. CU has at least 3 husband and wife teams in Colorado, Texas, and Georgia.
· Some of our unique shopping practices include having an out-of-town shopper in Arizona responsible for purchasing our mountain bikes and a New York shopper who spends several weeks in Florida in December and January locating dealers that can provide us with lawn mowers that are tested off-site right in Florida

Historical Facts
· In 1998 (the last year we logged shopping hours), our shoppers spent 6,436 hours purchasing products.
· In 1961 we paid out-of-town shoppers $1.25/hr and 8 cents per mile.
· CU employs a shopper in Texas who has been shopping for CU since 1953-almost 50 years.

How far is CU willing to go to get the most statistically accurate and sound results possible? Here are 2 notable shopping experiences:
· When CU tested condoms in June 1999, the goal was to see how condoms distributed publicly, i.e. at clinics and through vending machines, stacked up against those purchased at pharmacies. The shopper in charge of this project had to amass roughly 9,000 condoms, but when it came time to finding condoms sold in vending machines, the only place he could find them were nightclubs. He spent many an hour self-consciously feeding coins into the machines located in the nightclubs' men's rooms. But he was successful in getting the sample we needed!
· For Consumer Reports August 2000 bottled water story, shoppers in several cities around the country were asked to obtain municipal water samples. They were required to go to restaurants or to the home of a friend within the city limits and fill several plastic containers with water. How many of us would like to walk into a local McDonald's with several plastic jugs and ask for tap water? Fortunately we have many shoppers who get a kick out of our strange requests.

In order to do the most comprehensive tests possible, our shoppers do a sweep of the marketplace. We buy a huge range of items, many year after year. What becomes perhaps most interesting are the quantities we sometimes purchase.

In 2002 we purchased
· 710 ovulation and pregnancy kits
· More than 680 containers of ice cream
· 200 packs of antacids
· 1100 boxes of cereal

In 2001 we purchased
· More than 5,000 samples of lunchmeat
· More than 1,500 samples of frozen pizza and 8 restaurant brands of fresh pizza
· More than 300 pairs of jeans

In 2000 we purchased
· More than 1,400 bags of potato chips
· Approximately 950 six-packs of beer, which translates into 5,700 individual bottles of beer
· Roughly 350 luggage samples including high-end brands--this project's shopping budget alone totaled around $70,000

In 1999 we purchased
· Nearly 3,000 bottles of water
· About 1,700 bottles of shampoo
· 800 packages of butter and margarine
· More than 200 pairs of windshield wipers

In 1998 we purchased
· Nearly 2,000 cans of coffee
· More than 1,300 jars, bottles and tubes of moisturizers
· More than 300 bike helmets
· Nearly 5,000 alkaline batteries

Once we purchased the products, CU engineers often find creative ways to test them. Here are some examples of how we test products: [For more testing details, see "A Case Study in Engineering Ingenuity: How Consumer Reports"]

Dish Washers: Soiled the 113 items in each dishwasher load the same way by smearing soggy cornflakes, mashed potatoes, oatmeal, peanut butter, and a dozen other foods on dishes in precise patterns.
Floor Coverings: Covered a busy hallway for a year with a variety of varnished and laminated wood flooring products so CU staffers could provide real-life wear and tear for our tests.
Bike Helmets: Drop-tested the helmets to check performance in crashes by buckling them to an artificial head containing instruments that measure the shock to the helmet as it lands.
Treadmills: Used Johnny Walker, an eight-footed machine consisting of an aluminum drum supported by steel A-frames. Each foot simulates a person's step. Gauges connected to a computer measure the applied weight that simulates the force applied by a 175-pound man. Johnny has already logged 10,000 miles on many treadmills.
Door Locks: Used a weighted ram to see how much resistance a lock could provide against a forced kick-in entry. Also hammered, drilled, wrenched, and pried over 200 locks.
Package Delivery: Prepared hundreds of specially instrumented packages and had our engineers mail them around the country. Roofing Shingles: Built jigs to measure the ability of shingles to resist wind uplift and a freezer conveyor with water spray and heat lamps to expose shingles to freeze and thaw cycles.