7 MIN READ
Refurbished Electronics Save You Money Now, but Are They Really a Good Buy?
Shopping for electronics can be exciting. Are you finally replacing that laptop that sounds like a small prop plane when it’s thinking? Or maybe you’re ready to try something new.
Whatever the case, you have options. Hundreds of them.
Then it happens. You find just the right item online. It has every bell, whistle and Bluetooth bit of magic you were hoping to find. And the price is… well, unbelievable!
That’s when you see it. That one word that explains why this too-good-to-be-true deal is actually true.
Your first instinct is to move on. You don’t want someone’s faulty piece that was shined up for resale, do you?
Maybe you should.
What Does ‘Refurbished’ Mean?
You’ll find a lot of electronics out there on the web listed as refurbished. So what does “refurbished” really mean?
Webster’s online dictionary defines “refurbish” as a verb meaning “to brighten or freshen up.”
So it’s someone’s castaway that’s been buffed and polished? That’s no good.
Not really. In short, refurbished means that the item has been purchased and then returned for some reason. It could have been returned due to a faulty or missing part — or even just a customer who realized they couldn’t afford the item. The store can no longer sell this electronic item as new. So yes, it is someone’s unwanted item, but it could be unwanted for any reason or no real reason at all.
So what does the store do? It gives it a tuneup. It replaces parts that need replacing and gets the item back to like-new quality. Then, it attempts to resell the item, usually at a significant discount.
So the real question is this: Is the discount worth the risk of a defective product?
4 Tips for Finding Reliable Refurbished Electronics
Khiem Nguyen, a social media video strategist at The Penny Hoarder, has bought a few refurbished items, but it hasn’t always gone well.
He purchased a refurbished Wii, brought it home and booted it up.
“What happened next was that I discovered that it was loaded with porn,” he said. “Not fun, especially when you want to show your sister how to play Wii Sports.”
So how do you avoid buying a Wii that’s become a wee bit naughty?
Another one of my Penny Hoarder peeps has some insight.
Assistant editor Justin Cupler says the key is to know who you are buying from. “Always research the company you're buying the refurbished item from. It's best to buy from the original manufacturer itself or a manufacturer-approved refurbishing company. You never know what you'll get if you buy from Joe Refurbishing on eBay.”
So just what are the best tips for finding great deals on refurbished electronics?
- Stick to stores and brands you trust. You need to know that they are refurbishing the items themselves or using reputable companies to do the work. Look for descriptions like “manufacturer refurbished.” That means the company that built the item handles the refurbishing, so you know they’re using the right parts and specs. Apple, Dell and HP, for example, all offer their own refurbished products. Trusted retail stores are also a good place to start. Best Buy's Outlet section, for example, has quality third-party refurbished electronics.
- Is there a return policy? There’s a good chance you’ll know if your product is a dud within days, if not minutes, of firing it up. A company that won’t take returns on its refurbished items is telling you something about the quality of those items. Stay away.
- Look for a warranty. If there is no warranty, don’t do it. A warranty safeguards you against an item failing after the first couple of weeks. It’s an absolute must when buying refurbished. The longer the warranty period, the better.
- Research the company and read reviews on multiple sites. A lot of positive reviews are a good sign, but they can also be faked. Try to find feedback on the seller through several sites, including social media, not just the company’s own website.
Here’s What to Buy Refurbished… and What to Avoid
When it comes to buying refurbished electronics, not all products are created equal. Due to the nature of the product and company policies on how well they test the refurbished item, some types of electronics are safer bets for your money than others.
Here are some items that you could get at great quality and really save some cash by purchasing them refurbished.
Laptops and Tablets
Most refurbished laptops and tablets go through thorough testing before companies resell them, assuming you’re working with a reputable company. As long as you get a warranty, you could get a lot more computer for your buck by going refurbished. Just make sure you’ve thought about what you’re getting.
Video Game Consoles
Let’s face it: These things are expensive, and buying a refurbished video game console from a reputable seller can help you get a reliable system for cheaper. The system should be thoroughly tested and in great condition. Of course, you want that warranty, as well.
Maybe: Cell Phones
I’m hesitant on this one. There is a lot that can go wrong with a smartphone, so if you do choose to buy refurbished, deal only with the manufacturer. Buying refurbished from a third party will likely void any warranties and may create headaches like this guy had. Personally, I’d rather have a new phone that happens to be an older model than risking a refurbished model.
As great as it is to save money — we Penny Hoarders really, really enjoy that! — there are times when it just doesn’t make sense to go the refurbished route. Here are a few items to avoid.
A nice TV can be a big purchase, so you want it to work flawlessly and look nice. According to one author at CNET.com, televisions don’t get the same TLC in the refurbishing world as computers. Plus, some televisions labeled “refurbished” may be display models that work fine but have already burned through hundreds of hours of use. That said, if you’re looking for a spare TV for the garage or basement and care more about function than appearance, go ahead and take a flier on a refurbished product.
If you’re looking for a basic, in-home printer, you probably don’t have to spend that much to get what you need. Why roll the dice?
Even if a refurbished printer has new parts, it’s probably had ink running through its guts. Instead, look for a good sale on a new one and understand exactly what you need from your printer. No need to buy the Ferrari when a Ford will do the trick.
3 Times it Makes Sense to Buy Refurbished
If you know you’ll use your laptop for multiple hours every day doing work you’re passionate about, maybe you should invest a little more and buy a new one. But there are times when it makes perfect sense to buy refurbished.
You Want to Try Something New
Never used a Fitbit or RoboVac? Test the waters with a refurbished one on the cheap. You can always upgrade to a new one later if you fall in love.
You’re Buying for Kids
What are the odds your kid’s tablet gets tossed across the room or goes for a swim in the toilet? Or, if it’s a gaming system, how long before they want the next latest and greatest thing? Consider the expected lifespan of the product, and you may find buying refurbished is a better bet.
It’s a Backup
You love your laptop, but you need a backup for light use when you travel. Or you have your main camera but need one to carry just in case. Keep your costs down by snagging a refurbished model.
If you’re in the market for something techie, take a look at refurbished items, but do your homework first. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Stick to the brands you know and trust, and get a solid warranty. Who knows — you may save enough on that laptop to pay for your Wi-Fi for a year.
Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder who loves soaking up the sun and finding creative ways to help others. Catch him on Twitter at @Tyomoth.