Consumerist is a consumer affairs blog owned by Consumer Media LLC, a subsidiary of Consumer Reports with posts provided by a team of full-time reporters and editors. The blog's focus is on consumerism and consumers' experiences and issues with companies and corporations, concentrating mostly on U.S. consumers. Some content is based on reader-submitted tips and complaints, but the majority of the site's articles consist of original content and reporting by the site's staff.
Gawker Media established the blog in December 2005, with Joel Johnson as editor. Johnson had previously edited Gizmodo for Gawker. Consumerist was an idea from Gawker Media owner Nick Denton and managing editor Lockhart Steele; according to Johnson, "they knew they wanted a shopping blog—but not a shopping blog—and that they wanted to address the issues that consumers really find the most frustrating on a daily basis."
The idea of the site was based on a similar Hungarian blog called Tékozló Homár ("Wasteful Lobster" in Hungarian), which was initiated by Nick Denton's Hungarian friend, László Szily. "Tékozló Homár" is part of the Hungarian leading portal Index.
In creating Consumerist, Denton established its slogan and initial focus on readers' complaints, "consumer-oriented news nuggets, funny pictures and shopping tips — all with the same snarky tone that characterizes Gawker properties like Wonkette and Defamer.". Gawker hired Ben Popken to take over as site lead in February, 2006. Johnson left Gawker in July 2006, citing a "disagreement about [his] role within the company."
Gawker put the blog up for sale in November 2008, at the same time it announced the closure of one of its other blogs, Valleywag. Consumerist was purchased by Consumers Union, the publishers of Consumer Reports, in December 2008. The site's only two full-time employees, site lead Ben Popken and senior editor Meghann Marco, were retained through the sale. Following the acquisition, Marco and Popken shared the title of Co-Executive Editor, and contributors Chris Walters and Carey Greenberg-Berger, who had been laid off by Gawker, were reinstated.
Due to potential conflict of interest concerns, Consumerist does not run display ads for outside advertisers; while owned by Gawker, all display ads linked to other Gawker sites, although the Consumerist sold text ads through the Google AdWords program. As such, the site was considered a loss leader, whose primary business role was to help drive traffic to other revenue-producing Gawker sites. As an ad-free publication, Consumerist "has some freedom" to take on major national advertisers such as Comcast.
Consumer Reports laid off Managing Editor Ben Popken in November 2011. The departure was announced in a final blog post by Popken on Consumerist. Other editors have since joined the site, including Deputy Editor Chris Morran, Senior Editor Mary Beth Quirk, Assistant Editor Laura Northrup, Content Editor Kate Cox, and Special Projects Editor Ashlee Kieler.
Consumerist's traffic has remained steady throughout most of its existence. At the time it was acquired from Gawker, it had monthly traffic of approximately 10 million pageviews, and currently has similar levels.
- "Morning Deals"
Usually the first post of every weekday consists of a number of online deals or offers, usually on electronic devices.
- "Great Moments In Commercial History"
A popular past feature was known as "Great Moments In Commercial History", which focused on strange and entertaining local commercials. Past feature "moments" have included Moo and Oink grocery stores (Chicago, Illinois) and Mr. Appliance (Eugene, Oregon).
- "Christmas Creep"
This feature publicizes photos or stories of retail stores advertising Christmas sales, displaying Christmas decorations, or playing Christmas music far before the traditional holiday season, and often appears between September and early November.
- "Above and Beyond"
In a post introducing "Above and Beyond", Creator Carey Greenberg-Berger said: "Occasionally, corporations do something right. Not all the time. Not most of the time. Occasionally. When they do, we want to give credit where credit is due."
- "Worst Company In America"
The Consumerist runs an annual "Worst Company In America" contest with the winner determined by a series of reader polls. The single-elimination tournament is similar in format to college basketball's March Madness being held simultaneously. Companies that have advanced to the final four are included in the table below. The winning company is sent a "Golden Poo" trophy. In recent years, silver and bronze poos have been sent to the other finalists.
|2006||Halliburton||Choicepoint||Wal-Mart and US Government|
|2007||RIAA||Halliburton||Wal-Mart and Exxon|
|2008||Countrywide Financial||Comcast||Diebold and Wal-Mart|
|2009||AIG||Comcast||Bank of America and Ticketmaster|
|2010||Comcast||Cash4Gold||Bank of America and Ticketmaster|
|2011||BP||Bank of America||Comcast and Ticketmaster|
|2012||Electronic Arts||Bank of America||AT&T and Wal-Mart|
|2013||Electronic Arts||Bank of America||Comcast|
|2014||Comcast||Monsanto||Wal-Mart and Sea World|
- One of the first dominoes to fall in the United States housing bubble
- Involved in 2009 AIG bonus payments controversy after taking billions of dollars in Troubled Asset Relief Program bailouts
- Acquired Countrywide Financial in 2008
- involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill
- Defeated Wal-Mart in the first consolation match to win the bronze poo.
Stories reported on The Consumerist have been featured in national media such as CNN and The New York Times. The Consumerist often posts phone numbers and contact information for CEOs and upper level corporate customer support, and provides information on how to execute an "Executive Email Carpet Bomb".
Vincent Ferrari & AOL
On June 13, 2006, Vincent Ferrari posted an audio file of himself speaking with an AOL representative, allegedly named John, as Ferrari1 tried to cancel his AOL account. The AOL representative initially resisted Ferrari's request by attempting to keep the discussion focused on Ferrari's reasons for wanting to cancel. Vincent asked the customer representative several times to close the account until the conversation became confrontational, at which point Ferrari adamantly stated, "Cancel the account!", repeatedly until John complied with his request. After recording this call, Ferrari both posted it to his blog and submitted it to The Consumerist tip line. The AOL representative whom Vincent spoke to was fired from his job. The Consumerist called the story "[t]he best story we ever posted."
"The Grocery Shrink Ray"
The "grocery shrink ray" is a term Meghann Marco coined to describe the trend for groceries to be reduced in size while being sold at the same price point. Manufacturers perform these reductions to reduce their own costs but do not pass any savings on to the customer. Installments of these articles usually included user submitted photographs of the product in question on the shelf, being sold along with a newer and slightly smaller version of the same product. Local and national media outlets such as WTVT-TV FOX 13 in Florida, and National Public Radio have interviewed Popken regarding the trend and his attempts to inform the public at large.
Facebook terms of service
On February 15, 2009, The Consumerist broke the news of a terms of service clause that gave Facebook the right to "Do anything they want with your content. Forever." Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, Inc., later claimed that a paragraph was accidentally left out saying that the license to your content was exclusive to one's privacy settings and that the license expired when an account was closed. This event instigated much media coverage over the controversy of the terms of service.