We were invited to the @ConsumerReports testing facility in Yonkers, NY for a @ShopSmartMag summit and got a behind the scenes look at how they test some of the products that are featured in their magazine.
Consumer Reports Sensory Lab
When we walked into the Sensory lab we were each told to take a covered cup of what looked like Jello. Our host then told us how the testing process works. This room is a giant kitchen. On one wall they had counters where the panelists would sit and in front of them was a door (see picture 2). They would lift the door and a sample would be presented to them. There is another door on the other side of the wall. The reason for the 2 doors is to keep the scent inside the small space in between the two doors. On the opposite side of the wall another employee sits taking notes and recording everything on a computer.
One Jello cup was yellow and the other was orange. As a panelist we had to be objective and decide if the Jello was sweet, tart, sour, etc., not how it made us feel – big difference. In the end we found out that both Jellos were exactly the same except the orange Jello had been injected with a dye to give it the color. None of us could believe it. Because we looked at the Jello we were distracted and biased because of the color. A panelist is blindfolded so they never see the product and therefore can give an objective answer.
In a real test the panelist would be given a palette cleanser in between taste tests. They use water, unsalted Saltines, apples and pears depending on the food item.
That was super interesting. Oh, and if you ever want a job the panelists are permanent part-time employees. But, don’t think it is a glamorous job. Think about testing Jello for a whole week every single day.
Consumer Reports Washing Machine and Dryer Lab
In this lab you could see washing machines lined up busily washing clothes. Two washing machines were going simultaneously and they both had the same load. One took 2 hours to finish and the other 40 minutes. These are some of the things they look at.
They also test how good a washing machine will clean stains and the washability of the fabric. We looked at one fabric after it came out of a washer and it was almost in rags. They also look at how much energy it uses to run, wash and remove excess water.
They only score a few characteristics and pick what they think are the most important features that are common to many washing machines to add to their final results. So many machines have other features like steam and that is a bonus feature that would not be considered in their testing.
Another thing they look at is frequency of repair. How long will it last and how often, how easy, and how expensive are the repairs.
Consumer Reports Sound Proof Lab
This lab cost around 1.5 million dollars to build and sits on it own street address. When you are in it your ears want to pop because there are no walls for the sound to bounce off of. They test loud speakers, home theaters, shelf speakers, and camcorders in here.
They also said they have a lab that uses the same panelists from the Sensory lab to test sounds just outside of this room.
Consumer Reports TV Testing Lab
They have all kinds of TVs in this room with the same testing pattern on each of them. It was dark in the room. My eyes were hurting from the pattern so I didn’t stay too long. You get the idea of what and how they test.
Consumer Reports Baby Cribs and Exercise Equipment Testing Lab
We didn’t learn how they test baby cribs but they were lined up all over one room ready for the beast, as I like to call it, to pounce on it. If you look closely you can see something in the center of the crib. It appears to be a robot that acts as a child would who jumps up and down on the mattress. This is definitely a good test for a crib and a mattress.
On the other side of the room they had all kinds of elliptical machines. I think they switch them out with treadmills and other exercise equipment. One of the engineers had created a device to test the elliptical machine. Check out the video to see how it works.
They also had two “As Seen on TV” devices they were testing. The smaller one ended up being pointless because while it did work you could get the same results as doing a similar exercise without paying for the machine. This second “As Seen on TV” device was more worth your money and got a higher score.
It was great fun and definitely informative to get a behind the scenes tour of some of the Consumer Reports testing labs. We didn’t have time to view them all but we got the general idea how things work.
Another thing we learned is that Consumer Reports is a non-profit and they earn their income from donations and magazine sales. They do an invaluable job and provide unbiased facts for products that you and I use everyday.