Updated April 2013
Consumer advocacy includes all forms of support and representation of consumer interests.
Everyone is a consumer, and understanding who speaks for consumers and on what issues is therefore relevant to everyone. Since most people work, and many of the entities they work for are at one time or another opposed to consumer interests, large numbers of people also need to understand the limitations of consumer advocacy.
Consumer advocacy organizations range from the old-established and wide-ranging, such as Consumers Union (best known as publisher of Consumer Reports magazine), to highly specific organizations that are concerned only with a single issue or type of product or service. Some advocacy organizations focus on testing or publicity, while others engage in extensive lobbying and in politics. Also a form of consumer advocacy is the television or radio personality who presents a show on consumer issues.
Consumers Union is a classic example of a full-service consumer organization (except for lobbying and politics), putting pressure on manufacturers and service providers supplying a vast range of goods and services bought by the general public. In CU's case, this is done primarily through professional testing, comparing similar products against each other and against fixed standards, and publishing the results, as well as through a continuous stream of reports about political actions which affect consumer interests. At the other end of a wide range of types of consumer advocacy organization is a relatively recent form of advocacy group, the "volunteer reviewer" system — pioneered in the restaurant industry by the Zagat Guide, and now extensively developed for a much larger range of goods and services by a number of Web-based services such as Yelp.com and ResellerRatings.com.
Everyone needs to know if a product or service they are planning to buy will work. Brand names provide some reassurance, but paying attention to the testing and rating of consumer advocacy organizations provides more information. Meanwhile, participating in, or just keeping an eye on, organizations that engage in more political activity provides consumers with some way to influence legislation and agency rules, which can otherwise become excessively influenced by industry groups.