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Should I Buy Refurbished? What Exactly Does It Mean?

Posted by Brad on November 27, 2018

Refurbished is a term that often has a negative connotation with it. After all, who really wants a gently used product that a company has tried to put back together to resell? That’s the question that many folks are asking, but actually, that’s only what some refurbished products are like. There’s no need to shy away from refurbished because of the negative connotation with it, because, refurbished products aren’t actually that bad, at least not nearly as bad as people make them out to be.

So if you really want to get the scoop on what a refurbished product is and whether or not you should buy refurbished, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

What is Refurbished?

The word “refurbished” can mean a lot of things when it comes to electronics. At least on Amazon, the most common refurbished product that you’re going to see are products that arrived to customers as broken or defective — either right out of the box or during a warranty period — that were returned for a replacement. The manufacturer then takes that broken product and returns it to manufacturer specification with replacement parts, and then re-sells it as a Certified Refurbished product.

The other refurbished that you’ll see are generally products that weren’t sold by a vendor or brand, either just because they weren’t sold or because a newer, upgraded version of that same product was launched. You might see this most commonly with brands like Apple and Microsoft. In fact, Apple has its very own Refurbished & Clearance section on its website, where it’ll sell you the same product, but at a significantly discounted price.

Refurbished or Open Box?

There are two common types of discounts that you might see on the market — Certified Refurbished and Open Box products. The big difference between these two types of products is that Certified Refurbished products are generally items that were returned to the manufacturer, inspected, fixed and polished if needed, and then either put back up for sale on the manufacturer’s website, or sent to a retailer or vendor for sale.

An Open Box item is generally, well, an open box product that was returned the retailer, inspected by the retailer to be in working order, and then sold to you at a discount. Open Box are often a little more sketchy to purchase — especially if a warranty or return policy isn’t available to you — because you don’t know the reason why it was returned to the retailer. A customer could’ve returned it because they broke something, or they could’ve returned it because they simply didn’t want it anymore. You don’t know. That said, Open Box products can be a good deal, just make sure that you’re purchasing it from a respected place of business — you could end up losing your money if you find an Open Box item at a sketchy online retailer.

Should you buy refurbished?

The question on whether or not you should buy refurbished is a difficult one, but ultimately, it all depends on who you are buying the refurbished product from, and what type of electronic product it is. You can save a lot of money by purchasing refurbished when it comes to many types of electronics. Using Apple for example, if you were to purchasing a new MacBook Pro 15-inch laptop with the Touch Bar in a 256GB SSD, you would be looking at around $2500 brand new, with tax included. However, if you were to buy the same product refurbished, it sits at around $2100, with tax included. That’s around $400 in savings.

That’s generally a best case scenario — savings on other refurbished products are actually significantly less. For examples, with TVs, there’s a much less margin of savings. You’re often looking at around the same cost — new or refurbished — or possibly just a couple dollars in savings.

That said, whether you should buy refurbished or not really depends on the product. For example, you’re really safe with purchasing refurbished with Apple or Microsoft, because all of their refurbished products have an excellent one-year warranty with them. Not only that, but a lot of quality control is involved in the refurbishing process, essentially getting you a like-new device with no risk for 10 to 20 percent off. If a big name brand is selling refurbished — even if it’s lesser known ones like Dell or Lenovo — it’s almost always worth the savings, as many of them come with that same risk-free warranty.

But, if you were to buy a Certified Refurbished TV off of Amazon from some TV manufacturer or retailer, you might not have a great time. With TVs, the savings are usually minimal, and it’s usually better to buy new because most customers report lots of problems after receiving a refurbished TV. You really do have to shop around when it comes to TVs — a refurbished TV might not be a bad thing from, say, Samsung, but it could be a bad experience from manufacturers that try to meet the budget market with low quality parts. So, for TVs, shop around, look for good brands, and make sure the deal you’re getting is worth the risk — and always make sure they’re shipped with a manufacturer warranty!

Tablets and smartphones — are another consumer electronic that are good to buy refurbished. Depending on where you’re getting it from, they usually have the same savings margin — 10 to 20 percent off, and almost always come with a similar or better warranty than new.

Smartwatches —  is fairly mixed when it comes to buying refurbished. There’s not usually a good margin of discount, unless you’re buying a newer Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch. That said, it’s usually best to go with New here, just because there isn’t much value in the discount, though still not really a bad deal for those that are penny pinching.

Where to Buy Refurbished?

If you’re purchasing an Apple or Microsoft computer — or any big name laptop or computer, such as Lenovo, Dell, or ASUS, etc — it’s best to purchase directly from their own online retail stores. You’ll find refurbished models of these brands aplenty on sites like Amazon, but these, a lot of the time, aren’t manufacturer refurbished — they’re refurbished by the store selling on Amazon themselves. This is another type of refurbished, usually called Seller Refurbished — unfortunately, it’s usually a hit or miss with these in regards to a warranty coming with Seller Refurbished products.

Suffice to say, it’s best to buy directly from the brand itself. So, if you want to buy an Apple product, such as an iPhone, MacBook Pro, iMac, or others, you’ll want to go to Apple’s Certified Refurbished store (link here). If you want to purchase a Microsoft Surface Book, you can go to the Refurbished area of the Surface Book section (link here).

In the same way, if you’re interested in a refurbished Dell computer, you can go to their own online refurbished store (link here). What’s unique with the Dell refurbished store is that sometimes laptops and computers aren’t refurbished, but are overstock items. No one has ever opened or touched an overstock item, it’s just product that hasn’t been sold, and thus, you get a similar discount to refurbished.

In essence, you can head to www.google.com and search for “brandnamehere” followed by the word “refurbished” to see if your chosen brand has a refurbished store.

Lastly, if you’re looking for general consumer electronics — such as tablets, smartwatches, AirPods, cameras, TVs, etc — and you can’t find them straight from the manufacturer, then Best Buy’s Outlet Center is one of the best places that you can grab them. Many of the products are Certified Refurbished by Best Buy’s own repair team — Geek Squad — and come with impressive manufacturer warranties, and sometimes, even product warranties.

What about used?

If you’re just looking to save money by buying refurbished, you can save more by buying used. Many people are afraid to buy used because you can really get burned on the private market. There aren’t any warranties, and if you get a bad product, the seller tends to fall off the face of the earth, blocking all methods of contact with you.

While that does happen all of the time, there are at least two 100% safe ways to buy consumer electronics used. The first way is through an online electronics place called Swappa (link here). Sellers all over the United States post products in good or excellent condition for sale — laptops, phones, tablets, smartwatches, and more. Swappa’s motto is “No Junk,” only allowing fully functioning products on the site. Swappa’s able to enforce this by using PayPal as their payment gateway — don’t get the product advertised, and the seller is punished along with you, the buyer, getting a full refund. It’s virtually risk-free and can generally save you up to 50% of the original product’s value.

Similarly, you can use eBay to purchase used products. Depending on how an auction goes, you can usually get used products up to 75% off of the new value. And, eBay also uses the PayPal payment gateway, so get what you paid for, or get your money back. eBay is one of the best online marketplaces in terms of seller protections, so you won’t have a problem getting what you paid for or your money back!

What to check for after buying used or refurbished

When you purchase used or refurbished, it’s always a good practice to go over the device and make sure that everything works and looks as advertised.

  1. Check the screen and body of the device for any scratches and scuffs you weren’t told about. If there are, report the problem, if you feel it necessary.
  2. Check for water damage. Most devices, especially phones, tablets, and laptops, have moisture indicators. If you see one activated, your device might have been privy to water damage. You can check where your moisture indicators are by punching in the model number and searching Google. Return or report, if necessary.
  3. When you purchase a device with cellular functionality, activate with your carrier immediately. This ensures it can be used on your network, and wasn’t activated elsewhere.
  4. Check the ESN status of a phone with your carrier, for similar activation reasons we just stated. If bad, return immediately.
  5. Make a test call to make sure cellular devices are working properly.
  6. Take photos with front and back cameras to make sure your device’s cameras are working as intended.
  7. Try and connect to Wi-Fi to make sure that it works properly.
  8. Check the sound to make sure the speakers and headphones are working properly. You don’t want blown out speakers or a problem with the motherboard’s on-board audio processor.
  9. Finally, charge your device. One of the most common problems with refurbished, open box, and used products is difficulties with charging. Make sure the device can charge fully, properly, and also discharge fully (a day’s use should be able to tell you that).

Closing

As you can see, buying a refurbished, used, or open box product can be a complicated process. However, if you carefully listen to the information and follow the steps above, you should be able to safely buy one of these products risk-free — have you ever purchased a refurbished product? How did it go? Do you have any of your own tips for buying used or refurbished? Let us know in the comments section below!

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