50 years Stiftung Warentest Trusted and incorruptible

The first edition of the “test” magazine 1966
The first edition of the “test” magazine 1966 | Photo (detail): © Stiftung Warentest

>It used to be hand blenders or food processors. Today it’s smartphones or video cameras. The Stiftung Warentest (literally “Product Testing Foundation”) has been testing and rating products and services of all descriptions in the interest of the consumer for a good fifty years. Its logo with the red “T” emblazoned against a white background can be seen on tins, washing machines and child safety seats. Products that receive the mark “good” or “very good” needn’t worry anymore about their sales. Goethe.de spoke with the Foundation’s chairman, Hubertus Primus, about past and present challenges of consumer protection.

Mr Primus, if you imagine the Stiftung as a person, what sort of person would it be? A good friend, a strict examiner or an aunt who knows everything better?

A bit of all three, I’d say. Of course the Stiftung is a person who knows better about plenty of things. This is also what makes a good friend who gives us advice. And it is certainly very scrupulous, because it tests very carefully before giving its judgement on something.

What did Stiftung Warentest test in its beginnings, and what product tests are the order of the day now?

It used to be sewing machines, hand blenders, food processors. Today it’s repeatedly smartphones, laptops and TV screens, but also, for example, mineral water. When in 1997 we found bacteria in mineral water, there was quite an outcry. Just as in 2005 with the famous olive oil test when it emerged that seven of the 26 oils graded in the highest quality class were heat-treated. And our long-runner is energy saving light bulbs. The product we’ve tested most often is washing machines, and in second place mattresses. 

We always keep the consumer in view

Have there also been complaints lodged against the Stiftung?

Again and again. Most of the time we’ve won. So far we’ve never been sentenced to pay damages. Not even in the case of the actress Uschi Glass’s skin cream, which we rated as “poor” in 2004 because it induced rashes. The Berlin Regional Court found in our favour and refused to permit an appeal.

What is the essence of Stiftung Warentest’s success?

Foundation’s chairman, Hubertus Primus Foundation’s chairman, Hubertus Primus | © Stiftung Warentest That we’re objective, independent and apply scientific methods of testing. And we always keep the consumer in view and what sort of test results he needs. Very important is our independence and neutrality. We’re advertising-free, we buy the products we test anonymously and we’re beholden to no supplier.

How is the Stiftung financed?

We’re financed up to 90 per cent through our own revenues, that is, through the sale of the magazines test (circulation: 450,000) and Finanztest (220,000) and through the proceeds from our Internet site. In addition, we receive an annual grant from the Ministry of Consumer Protection, which makes up for the absence of advertising revenue. This comes to about five million euros per year, tendency slightly decreasing.

User-friendliness and corporate social responsibility

Who determines when what will be tested?

We observe the market closely, all the new products being offered. We also get suggestions from our readers. At the international level, we work closely together with partner organizations. This includes, for example, the American market Consumer Reports. What comes out in America, comes out a little later here – that’s still the case.
 
  • Der Sitz der Stiftung Warentest in Berlin am Lützowplatz 11 im Stadtteil Tiergarten © Stiftung Warentest
    Der Sitz der Stiftung Warentest in Berlin am Lützowplatz 11 im Stadtteil Tiergarten
  • 16. Dezember 1964: Bundeswirtschaftsminister Kurt Schmücker überreicht die Gründungsurkunde. © Stiftung Warentest
    16. Dezember 1964: Bundeswirtschaftsminister Kurt Schmücker überreicht die Gründungsurkunde.
  • Das erste „test“-Heft erscheint am 26. März 1966 © Stiftung Warentest
    Das erste „test“-Heft erscheint am 26. März 1966
  • In den ersten beiden Tests werden Nähmaschinen und Handrührgeräte untersucht © Stiftung Warentest
    In den ersten beiden Tests werden Nähmaschinen und Handrührgeräte untersucht
  • 1967: Die ersten Farbfernseher in Deutschland kommen auf den Prüfstand © Stiftung Warentest
    1967: Die ersten Farbfernseher in Deutschland kommen auf den Prüfstand
  • Stiftung Warentest führt 1972 auf dem Berliner Kurfürstendamm getestete Kinderwagen vor © Stiftung Warentest
    Stiftung Warentest führt 1972 auf dem Berliner Kurfürstendamm getestete Kinderwagen vor
  • Bundeswirtschaftsminister Hans Friderichs gratuliert der Stiftung 1974 zum zehnjährigen Bestehen © Stiftung Warentest
    Bundeswirtschaftsminister Hans Friderichs gratuliert der Stiftung 1974 zum zehnjährigen Bestehen
  • Ein Dauerprüfstand für Fahrräder ermittelt 1974 Schwachstellen bei längerer Benutzung © Stiftung Warentest
    Ein Dauerprüfstand für Fahrräder ermittelt 1974 Schwachstellen bei längerer Benutzung
  • Bundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt mit getesteten Kinderfahrrädern © Stiftung Warentest
    Bundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt mit getesteten Kinderfahrrädern
  • Das waren noch Zeiten: Im Oktober 1984 wird der Computer Commodore 64 für „gut“ befunden © Stiftung Warentest
    Das waren noch Zeiten: Im Oktober 1984 wird der Computer Commodore 64 für „gut“ befunden
  • 2012 stehen Handys und Smartphones auf dem Prüfstand © Stiftung Warentest
    2012 stehen Handys und Smartphones auf dem Prüfstand
  • Handy-Test an einem Kunstkopf: Im Labor wird standardisiert die Sprachqualität gemessen © Stiftung Warentest
    Handy-Test an einem Kunstkopf: Im Labor wird standardisiert die Sprachqualität gemessen
  • Matratzen-Test: Eine 140 Kilogramm schwere Walze wird 60.000 Mal über die Matratze geführt © Stiftung Warentest
    Matratzen-Test: Eine 140 Kilogramm schwere Walze wird 60.000 Mal über die Matratze geführt
  • Wanderschuh: 32 Düsen dampfen aus dem künstlichen Schwitzfuß © Stiftung Warentest
    Wanderschuh: 32 Düsen dampfen aus dem künstlichen Schwitzfuß
  • Die Zeitschrift „Finanztest“ testet seit 1991 Finanz- und Versicherungsangebote © Stiftung Warentest
    Die Zeitschrift „Finanztest“ testet seit 1991 Finanz- und Versicherungsangebote
  • Bis heute haben die Produktbewertungen der Stiftung Warentest hohe Marktwirksamkeit © Stiftung Warentest
    Bis heute haben die Produktbewertungen der Stiftung Warentest hohe Marktwirksamkeit
Who tests everything for you?

We work with about 200 laboratories and testing institutes around the world, all of which have to sign a declaration of neutrality. They send us their scientific reports and we evaluate them here. On this basis, we then award our well-known school marks, ranging from “very good” to “poor”.

What gives an engineer joy may be far from practical for a consumer. What about the user-friendliness of a product?

Right, there’s a tension here. So the engineer’s view doesn’t dominate, we have a project meeting before each test where the editor responsible for the project represents the view of the consumer. For example, vacuum cleaners: not only the suction capacity is important but also how long the cord is, so that you don’t have to change sockets every metre. And since we know that consumers are getting steadily older in Germany, we also take into account the ease of use – for instance, when it comes to operating a coffee machine.

Since 2004 you’ve also tested so-called corporate social responsibility. Why?

We’ve found that interest in these test results has increased. People today are much more inclined to make their buying behaviour dependent on the conditions under which goods are produced. This inclination was especially strengthened by the devastating disaster in the textile factory in Bangladesh in 2013. If consumers act in this way, the suppliers have to change and then working conditions in the countries of origin will improve. By the way, we can’t manage more than three tests of this kind a year. They’re very expensive.

How would you assess the overall social benefits of the Stiftung Warentest?

When you’re as well-known as the Federal Chancellor, known to 97 per cent of the population, and when, according to surveys, two thirds of consumers orient themselves by our tests results, then you can read off from this our social significance. I believe we’ve contributed significantly over the years to the improvement of products. Clearly, if we rate something as “poor”, the product is off the market. To put it this way, we’ve contributed to enhancing the competitiveness of the German economy.