Somewhere in the middle

Consumer Reports is out with a statistically meaningless ranking of the best places to buy electronics and Target fell in the middle of the pack. The publication surveyed roughly 26,000 readers who purchased electronics products between January 2009 and June 2010 and asked them to rate 17 brick-and-mortar stores and 12 online retailers on such metrics as price, selection, product quality, customer service, buying ease and returns. Target ranked 11 with a score of 85, ahead of Best Buy at 15 with a score of 83. Retailers categorized as “independents” ranked first with a score of 93, and Walmart was last with a score of 80.

Consumer Reports is a brand best known for its testing of products and issuing recommendations to aid people in their purchase decisions. Yet, for some reason, the publication produces these retailer rankings that are arrived at by an inherently flawed methodology that is skewed by the demographics of the publication’s subscriber base. “Results might not reflect the U.S. population,” is the tepid disclaimer offered in a guide to the ratings.

The usefulness of the ratings is further diminished by the fact that most of the companies were rated relatively high and differences of fewer than five points is not considered meaningful. As a result, Target is within five points of 15 of the 17 retailers on the list. Consumer Reports acknowledged this issue and noted, “with so many retailers highly rated for overall satisfaction, you ca