Our Best Buy Process

A Consumers Digest Best Buy is a product that delivers exceptional value for a given amount of money. That doesn’t mean that it’s simply the least expensive product in its category. A Consumers Digest Best Buy is one that merits special attention from consumers based on its combination of eight criteria: performance, ease of use, features, quality of construction, warranty, efficiency, styling, and maintenance and service requirements. Because virtually all product categories cover a range of prices, there’s no such thing as the Best Buy, in practical terms.

Of course, every product category includes many excellent, worthwhile products, but some of these we don’t deem Best Buys because their high price relative to competitive models excludes them from consideration. For us, value is defined via a simple equation: overall quality divided by cost. Consequently, price (the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, specifically—not retail prices) is a key consideration in selecting our Best Buys. So as overall quality increases and cost remains the same, value increases; likewise, as overall quality remains the same and cost decreases, value also increases.

The process for selecting Consumers Digest Best Buys is rigorous. It begins with identifying all of the products that are available to U.S. consumers in a particular category. Often that list is long (50–100 models). We call it the product universe. All model information must derive from manufacturers, not retail, website or other sources. Manufacturers represent the most reliable source. On average, only a small percentage of all products that we evaluate are deemed Consumers Digest Best Buys.

The first step in evaluating products for Best Buy consideration is to ensure that they meet four basic criteria: national availability in retail stores or via an established online retailer; a national dealer network/service organization to support repairs/service; a manufacturer of established reputation (unless it’s part of a genuinely new technology); availability for at least 6 months after the publication date of Consumers Digest’s Best Buy recommendation.

The products that meet these criteria are then assessed based on the eight specific criteria listed above. This assessment is carried out in numerous ways: hands-on use; review of independent evaluation/testing; review of reports from government agencies and others; interviews of retailers and service technicians; review of consumer surveys; review of evaluations from other entities. Our research methodology is based in using a product as it was designed to be used in real life. Many are the situations where Consumers Digest staff samples numerous models to include first-hand experience in the overall evaluation of various models in a category. These have included assembling and using 25 different outdoor grills; putting a half-dozen carpet cleaners through their paces; and assessing the security of entry-door locks in terms of their resistance to being picked.

When all of the hands-on evaluation, where applicable, and all other research is complete, the number of products that are under consideration for recommendation is dwindled to a select few. These are grouped by price range, because products come at multiple price points and consumers have different price levels at which they define value. The products that we ultimately deem Best Buys typically will be classified into three categories: [P] Premium selection, which denotes that a product is full-featured and delivers excellent performance but is priced accordingly; [M] Midrange selection, which indicates that a product has many popular features and good performance at a price below the top of the line for the category; and [E] Economy selection, which means that a product delivers satisfactory performance via basic features at an advantageous price for cost-conscious consumers.

Every product-category evaluation is spearheaded by Consumers Digest senior editors. On each product evaluation, at least one expert evaluator/writer is hired to collaborate. In the automotive category, for example, six experts whose experience totals 140 years’ coverage of autos contribute to our ultimate recommendation of 12 categories of cars, SUVs, pickups, minivans and hybrids.