The Secret Lives Of Consumer Reports Secret Shoppers

Stacking pints of ice cream on the floor of the supermarket is bound to make the stocker mad. You can’t tell him that you’re a Consumer Reports secret shopper and that you just need to make sure you get nine pints that came from the same production line on the same date. So Jon goes into his “Rain Man” routine, and starts chanting, “Count the vanilla, count the vanilla, gotta count the vanilla,” and the eventually the stocker goes away. Such are the exciting times and lives of the 94 brave men and women who go undercover as everyday consumers to buy the products that get taken back to the Consumer Reports testing facilities, often concocting cover stories to explain, for instance, why they’re buying five different kinds of washing machines at once. WIRED has the story.

[via BoingBoing]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. rmz says:

    “He fondly recalls the time he purchased five different washing machines, claiming that his landlord father had given tenants their choice of brands.”


  2. shan6 says:

    Thank you Consumer Reports, you put things in your mouth when nobody else wants to.

  3. Pithlit says:

    @shan6: I was jealous of the chocolate testes until I read that part. No thanks.

  4. Pithlit says:

    Uh, that should be “testers” …..

  5. mike says:

    You know…I think I might do this just for kicks…

    “3 vanilla…4 vanilla….wait…where’s number 2? WHERE’S NUMBER 2?!”

  6. madrigal says:

    @Pithlit: so where do you get chocolate testes?

  7. shan6 says:

    @Pithlit: Are you SURE it shouldn’t be “testes”? Heh.

  8. jamar0303 says:

    @Pithlit: Wow, I wish I had those.

  9. Blueskylaw says:

    What excuse did he use for the condoms?

  10. kris in seattle says:

    I SO want this to be my job.

  11. Nighthawke says:

    The rain man routine put me in stitches.. Once I got over it I reread it…

    And wound up in stitches agian!

  12. missbheave (is not convinced) says:

    @Pithlit: testes was funnier.

  13. pengie says:

    @Blueskylaw: “I’m a high school health teacher” would be a good one. I imagine something along those lines…

    Having said that, my stepmother is a part-time secret shopper (not for Consumer Reports, as far as I know) and she really does get to do some pretty cool stuff. Usually it’s just eating at local restaurants, but she’s test-driven some new cars and such. I bet she’s glad she doesn’t have to chew on wax or pennies.

  14. Pithlit says:

    @madrigal: There’s a lot they aren’t telling us at the old Consumer Reports testing lab, apparently.

  15. stephenjames716 says:

    does anyone know what they do with the products (such as cars) when they are done testing them?

  16. TWinter says:

    Why did he have to purchase the washing machines at the same store? If they were testing different brands, couldn’t he just buy the different brands at different stores and/or at different times?

  17. stephenjames716 says:

    does anyone know what they do with the products after they are done testing?…such as cars?

  18. homerjay says:

    @Pithlit: Is that anything like “Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls?”

  19. Pithlit says:

    @homerjay: We could ask the Consumer Reports’ “testing” lab.

  20. friendlynerd says:


    Competitor to Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls?

  21. samurailynn says:

    @TWinter: It probably has more to do with the secret shopper only getting paid a set fee to purchase the products, rather than getting paid by the hour. He makes more money if he can buy them all in one trip.

  22. Ssscorpion says:

    Do chocolate testes produce semen that tastes like chocolate syrup?

  23. moviemoron says:

    Yay CR. Thats why I love the mag so much! Honest unbiased testing. Thats hard to find.

  24. friendlynerd says:


    I hope so! Sign me up, yo. Blowjobs for everyone.

  25. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    They sell the stuff. There was an editor’s note on that once.

    I still remember when they wrote that nobody needs a TV larger than 19″.
    Or power door locks in cars.

    Or my favorite, a taste test of frozen pot pies.
    In which they said that their homemade pot pie was better tasting & took the same 45 minutes to make as the frozen one.
    They did leave out that with the frozen one, you put it in the oven & go do something else for the 45 minutes, while with the homemade one you spent 35 minutes making it & only got 10 minutes away while it cooked in the oven.

    Now they test TV’s up to 60″ & say power door locks are a necessary safety factor.

    And then there’s the annual mailing of the survey & election of board members.
    A note slipped in there says that it costs around $680,000 to mail it out, so won’t you be a dear & send us a donation to cover that cost.
    So if each subscriber/member of CR/CU sent in only $10, that would be over $30 million!
    Well isn’t that taken care of in the annual subscription charge?
    If you’re losing money on the survey, then raise the price by 27¢ per year to cover it!

    CR/CU is just as conniving & slimy as the ads they criticize on the inside back cover!

  26. topgun says:

    “Rain Main” is one of my favorite movies. So is “Raiders of the Lost Aardvark”

  27. friendlynerd says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik:

    That’s such bullshit. They’re telling people to make an educated decision based on what is available and economical at the time.

    You’re probably in the same camp that screams about CR’s “bias” against American car companies.

  28. Beerad says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: Wow, a magazine that tests consumer products and does not have advertising is conniving and slimy because they ask readers to help support it? Just like those conniving and slimy public radio folks too, huh? I’m perplexed that this upsets you; after all, you can just “stick it to them” by not donating, or not subscribing for that matter.

    Shocking that they weren’t reviewing 60″ TVs back in the days before large televisions were a regular household item, huh? I bet a feature on which 40-50″ TV was best would have been very helpful in 1985.

    Why so much hate?

  29. Xkeeper says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: Bill Gates once said nobody needed more than 64k of RAM.

    Times change. Get over it.

  30. smokeyjoe says:

    “We put things in our mouths that you wouldn’t normally put in your mouth”

    Oh yeah, baby.

  31. timsgm1418 says:

    you had me really wondering where they bought chocolate testes, and gave me a good laugh..thanks@Pithlit:

  32. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    No, they’re conniving & slimy for using exactly the same tactics that they decry every month in the magazine!
    And the ‘nobody needs a TV larger than 19″‘ statement was made when the biggest selling size was 27″.

    There has been a marked improvement in the testing over the years, but there are still the occasional lapses in logic & common sense in Yonkers.
    The best current example is that they won’t take emailed letters from those who won’t pay the extra $12 a year for the website.

    Again, just raise everyone’s subscription $1 a year & it covers it.
    It’s called, economy of scale, but CR/CU just can’t let go of an elitist system.
    And they have acknowledged over the years that they are often elitist & have said they’re trying to correct that.
    They just don’t try hard enough.

  33. opsomath says:

    count the vanilla! count the vanilla!

  34. adamondi says:

    I wonder why they feel the need to come up with cover stories. If I were to go into a store and want to buy 5 different brands of washer, and the guy were to give me crap, I would just say “Do you NOT like the commission you are getting from selling five washers to me? Keep pestering me about them, and I will buy them from a different salesman.”

  35. theirishscion says:

    @Xkeeper: <pedanticism>Actually old Billy-G said we’d never need more than 640K of RAM</pedanticism>

  36. puka_pai says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik:

    “The best current example is that they won’t take emailed letters from those who won’t pay the extra $12 a year for the website.

    Again, just raise everyone’s subscription $1 a year & it covers it.”

    Great idea! Charge your already-paying subscribers more money to cover the cost of people who won’t pay. I’m sure that will go over really well.

  37. dantsea says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: You’re one of those people who writes angry letters when the local newspaper’s editorial stance shifts without notice, aren’t you?

  38. Ben Popken says:

    Please don’t feed the trolls.

  39. NigerianScammer says:

    I used to know a guy who was a part time secret shopper for BJ’s Wholesale Club. He’d be able to keep everything that he bought, even the big ticket items.
    I saw him take a barbecue home one day, the next a computer.

  40. swalve says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: I agree- I subscribed to CR for a couple of years, and found it to be terrible. They are inaccurate, and what really gets my goat is that they will criticize some feature or another in the article part of the review, but then they wouldn’t put that feature in the ratings.

    Here’s what ended it for me- they are no better than any other magazine in that they send you a bill every month whether your subscription has run out or not.

    And their dishwasher detergent review- they rated Costco’s Kirkland better than Cascade Complete, and it’s terrible. It doesn’t work! Who cares if it’s cheaper? I use half as much, I use twice as much, I use the recommended amount. Doesn’t work. Go back to Cascade Complete, works like a dream. If they can’t get that right, why should we trust them with anything else?

  41. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    When Consumers Union was started in the late 1930’s, it was an avowed socialist group.
    Not any more!

    You & the others ragging on me don’t seem to get that CU/CR is nickel & diming its subscribers.
    But that’s something that the magazine/organization has been attacking for years.
    But both you & CU/CR seem to think it’s OK when a reputable group does it.
    It’s called hypocrisy & CU/CR is excellent at it!

    I have had products that CU/CR has rated as ‘Conditionally Acceptable’ or ‘Not Acceptable’ over the years. But all that was wrong was that they weren’t using those products in the real world.
    Far too much of their testing procedures are bizarre. And that’s shown by changes to the ratings over the 4o some years I’ve been reading CR.
    And that’s how I’m different from you, I’ve been reading it far longer & have a memory of some of their mistakes.

    Every month the magazine is overloaded with both bound-in & blow-in subscription cards.
    But over 90% of the circulation is already getting it through subscriptions. So the cards are a waste of paper & postage. One set of bound-in cards would suffice to most of that 90%. Library copies would get the same number as single copies for newsstand sales.

  42. scoosdad says:


    Here’s what ended it for me- they are no better than any other magazine in that they send you a bill every month whether your subscription has run out or not.

    Or even if it has 15 months left to go.

    I recently received a subscription renewal letter from them telling me that my sub was about to expire, that they hadn’t heard from me, and that I needed to take action immediately to keep the magazine coming. I almost fell for it because it came close to the time every year when I renew, but then I checked my records and realized that I had subscribed for two years instead of one last time, and the first year wasn’t even complete yet. Checked my subscription mailing label, and sure enough, February of 2009.

    Talk about “Selling It” (their back of the magazine showcase for advertising scams). I wonder how many careless people fall for that one. I may seriously rethink my renewal when it really comes around in another year because of that scam.

  43. swalve says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: I’d forgotten about the socialist thing. And the funny thing is that they are exactly the sort of group the Libertarians imagine will form if they got their way.

  44. strathmeyer says:

    @shan6: “Thank you Consumer Reports, you put things in your mouth when nobody else wants to.”

    Now if only they’ll release a list of foods with metal, wax, and chalk in them so we know to avoid them.

    /probably already avoids them.