Most people know that buying a refurbished tech product will save you money compared to buying a new product. It also gives a device a second life instead of sending it to be recycled. While the demand for gadgets is not as great as it was during the height of the pandemic, buying refurbished devices is sometimes a smart way to find new or hard-to-find products at a lower price. If you’re gifting tech for the holidays (and you may want to avoid the crowds of Black Friday and Cyber Monday), it’s not a bad idea to see what kinds of things you can find on the web that have been refurbished.
Those are all good things, but “refurbished” is still a loaded word for many people. New means new, a product that no one else has used. On the other hand, buying something refurbished can be a gamble, despite the fact that the product is likely to be significantly cheaper.
If it has been refurbished, it probably means the product was broken or rough enough to warrant repair. It could also mean that whoever bought it simply decided they didn’t want it and returned it to the store. The definition of what makes for a refurbished product depends on the seller, but something that can alleviate some concern is that there are American products laws that prevent used technology from being sold as new. We’ve also seen it in action. In 2019, New York City filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile for misleading buyers by selling used phones to customers who had paid for new ones.
However, buying refurbished raises many questions. Did the original manufacturer refurbish the product or was this done by an outside company? Has the product been restored to as good as new condition, or will it look visibly used when you receive it? Has it been professionally cleaned and sanitized, and does it come with new accessories? Does it have a warranty, and who will be responsible if it breaks?
It’s easy to see why many people prefer to simply pay more for something new. However, it is possible to both save money and not get ripped off when buying refurbished products. Below we’ve laid out some tips to follow when buying refurbished technology. None of this is fail safe, but it will make the process a lot safer – and you can get some great devices at lower prices.
What should you pay attention to if you want to buy refurbished?
Buying a refurbished product from the original manufacturer is generally much less of a gamble than buying from a third-party seller. The manufacturer probably has higher standards for refreshing and repacking the product, and – crucially – must have access to authentic materials and components. In our experience, these first-party refurbished sales are rare and usually sell out quickly.
But there are also many companies that exist solely to refurbish products, and they can do a good job as well. You just need to be extra vigilant, ask the right questions and make sure all your questions are answered. In other words, if you’re buying a refurbished product, it helps to have criteria. This quickly becomes second nature once you get into the habit of looking at refurbished technology. Here are some questions to get you started:
- What condition is it in? Is it in as good as new condition or slightly used?
- Does it come with all original accessories and documentation?
- What kind of warranty does it have and who gives it?
The answers to those questions are not necessarily obvious. Sometimes the product may be visibly damaged, come in a different box or only have a six month warranty. That’s fine, as long as you know before you buy it. In fact, you can often use this information to your advantage to save some money, as resellers can sometimes cut costs if the product isn’t in perfect condition. You’ll just have to decide what you want to settle for.
What is an open box product?
Sometimes products are listed as ‘open box’. This term can mean slightly different depending on the retailer, but most use it to indicate that the product was opened by a customer who purchased it, and then returned to the store in its original box with all accessories. In other words, it didn’t need refurbishing because the assumption is that it was either never used at all or only used once and then repackaged. In general, it’s safe to assume that an open-box product is in good working order, although it never hurts to ask for clarification or look for the information somewhere on the web page.
Is there anything I shouldn’t buy refurbished?
Ultimately, that’s your call to make. Some staff at The edge make a sour face at the idea of using refurbished headphones, especially earbuds. I think it’s normal to have that reaction, considering how intensively you could use such a product. Many, but not all, companies claim to thoroughly clean remanufactured products before resale; however, for some people, something that has been used that way is forever unclean.
In my opinion, the most important thing to consider when buying a refurbished product is that the warranty is good enough to support you should the device fail. And if the retailer says your product will arrive in a clean, well-packaged condition, make sure what you receive is representative of their claims.
Update Nov 1, 2022 12:40 PM ET: This article was originally published on May 15, 2020. It has been updated to provide buyers with context for the 2022 holiday season.