You can still get great gadgets for less than Black Friday prices while making a good choice for the environment. Buying refurbished could cut the environmental impact of giving a new smartphone by up to 91%!
Check the warranty length
You want at least a 90 day warranty. Many refurbishers will warranty electronics longer than the manufacturer -- 1 or 2 years. Read information about the warranty before buying.
Get a good price
Generally speaking, the cost for a reliable, certified pre-owned piece of equipment is usually about 15-20% less than buying new, plus 10% per year since the original sale.
Check the accessories
Items that, when new, come with earphones, connecting cables and charging stations, don’t always come with those important accessories when used. You should check to see what you are getting, and whether you will need to purchase other accessories.
Is it repairable?
Some products are difficult to repair — either because of the design or the manufacturer restricts access to necessary parts and information. Manufacturers like HP and Dell have a good record of repairable products.
Why Shop Refurbished?
Black Friday prices without the Black Friday crowds prices: You can usually find great deals on used electronics, getting something that’s like-new, but for a sizable discount. The difference between a used and new item can be negligible — some were returned without being opened.
Buying used is a greener choice: Buying used gifts is better for the environment. Most of the environmental damage from our electronics comes from the manufacturing process. Buying refurbished reduces the environmental impact of giving a new smartphone between 77% and 91%. It also prevents the extraction of 180 lbs. of resources and the emission of 50 lbs of climate change pollutants.
Tips for Shopping Refurbished:
1) High-quality items tend to make better refurbished gifts. Unfortunately, not all electronics are made to last very long — and while you should always look for durable items to avoid waste, this is especially true when shopping refurbished. Things designed to last usually cost a little more upfront, but provide big savings over time.
2) The manufacturer has a track record of durability and repairability. Consumer Reports tracks durability data for electronics and appliances, and members can look up information there. U.S. PIRG Education Fund also compiled a repairability scorecard for the top laptop and phone makers, while iFixit posts repairability scores for phones, laptops and tablets. The easier an item is to repair, the more likely it will last.
3) Know what you want before you shop. When you’ve done a little homework, and you know the make and model of the item you want, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of buying refurbished.
4) Be wary of these items:
- Items that are using software which is no longer supported. Manufacturers will stop supporting software on laptops, phones, and tablets, making them more vulnerable to attacks.
- Televisions and computer monitors have a track record of problems, given their bulk and fragility.
- Items that rub against skin like earbuds or headphones.
- Printers. Typically, printers wear down as they use ink and toner, which builds up inside. Refurbishers rarely clean out all that ink.
- Items with impossible to replace batteries. Manufacturers sometimes glue batteries into devices such as tablets, or Apple AirPods, making replacing those batteries impossible.
Where to shop refurbished electronics
Because buying used increases your risk, who you buy from is critical.
Retailers that specialize in refurbished gifts
Over the last few years, the marketplace for refurbished electronics has grown, with more choice and better quality standards for consumers. Here are some of our favorites:
- Back Market: Back Market carries a minimum 1-year warranty, and has high standards for its refurbished products. They carry phones, tablets, desktop and laptop computers, as well as televisions and audio equipment, and offer a 30-day return policy.
- Gazelle: Gazelle buys and resells used electronics from users and from mobile carriers, and has a wide selection of phones, tablets and laptops. The site has an easy to use, extensive search function that allows you to shorten your shopping time, and they offer free standard shipping and a 30-day return policy.
- VIP Outlet: Much of VIP Outlet’s inventory of computers, tablets, cameras, phones and other devices come from returns, so the products are close to new and also come with a 90-day warranty.
- Decluttr: Decluttr certifies their refurbished tech with a 12 month warranty and 14 day return policy. Students can get a 10% discount on CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, games, books and toys.
Other ways to shop refurbished
- Original equipment manufacturers are a reliable source of refurbished products, though also the most expensive. Not all manufacturer refurbishment programs are created equal in terms of what they check and how long they warranty the product, so it’s important to look at our tips below. Some manufacturers actively block other technicians from access to parts and service information required to properly service their products — and can charge you whatever they want for any future repairs.
- Amazon: Amazon allows a variety of suppliers to use their refurbished and certified pre-owned marketplace (except, that is, if those suppliers want to sell repaired Apple products). Amazon has the largest selection and offers a minimum 90-day supplier-backed warranty and a 30-day return policy.
- Best Buy: You can buy a range of used products through the Best Buy Outlet, and they come in different categories — Open-Box, Refurbished and Pre-Owned. Shopping through this tool can be somewhat complicated as the warranties and quality vary, but it has a large selection and carries Best Buy’s return and exchange promise.
- Walmart: Walmart has been expanding its Certified Refurbished Electronics and also offers a 90-day minimum warranty. While Walmart has a smaller selection than Amazon and Best Buy, it can have bigger discounts.
- Newegg: Newegg has a very wide selection of computer products and a refurbished marketplace for desktops, laptops and more. Especially for computers, Newegg often carries a factory warranty, but this varies by product.
Four tips to help you shop refurbished
1) Check to ensure the process of refurbishing is thorough. Terms such as “Like-New,” “Open-Box,” “Refurbished,” or “Certified Pre-Owned” can mean very different things. Some vendors claim that an item is refurbished, when all they have done is make sure it turns on and wipe it clean(ish) with a cloth. You can read the vendors refurbishing practices, and you can also stick with the refurbishers we recommend above.
2) Find out about accessories. Items that, when new, come with earphones, connecting cables and charging stations, don’t always come with those important accessories when used. You should check to see what you are getting, and whether you will need to purchase other accessories. The fewer the accessories, the more of a discount you should expect.
3) How to know you are getting a good price.
- Make sure you know when the model came out. In addition to how old the device is, you should check when the specific model debuted. Prices for refurbished items are mostly set by the debut of the product, and not how long those specific items were in use. This matters less with devices that don’t require a lot of software updates, such as cameras; but with a device such as a tablet, the older the device, the more issues it may have with running the latest software.
- Generally speaking, the cost for a reliable, certified pre-owned piece of equipment is usually about 15-20% less than buying new, plus 10% off per year since the original sale. So, a three-year-old tablet might be about half the price of that same tablet new.
- There are options to compare products on most of the retailers mentioned above. Don’t automatically choose the cheapest option if you find one merchant selling the same item at a much lower cost; there is probably more risk.
- Once you find the product you want, check the price against other options. Just because it’s refurbished doesn’t automatically mean it’s a better deal.
4) Get protection — warranty, returns or purchase insurance. First you should get a sense of the return policy, and what the terms are. Most sellers will give you 30 days to return, but some give you just a couple of weeks, meaning you have to flag defective products very quickly. In addition to a good return policy, you want at least a 90-day warranty in case the item needs service. Paying with some credit cards will extend your warranty and give you additional purchase protection. Getting additional protection is a good way to enjoy the cost savings without the risk. Your credit card company can also help get your money back if the seller won’t accept a return.
5) Avoid products that aren’t designed to last. Tech with glued in batteries, like Apple Airpods, have a limited lifespan. That’s because all batteries eventually stop holding their charge and need to be replaced. However when manufacturers design their products to be disposable, with glued-in batteries or short software support timelines, our environment pays the price. Repair scores can help us pick products designed to last and push manufacturers to avoid bad practices.
Four last tips before you give
1) Check the item ASAP, before you wrap. The less time between buying a product and you testing it thoroughly, the better. It’s much easier to get your money back for a defective product if you flag problems right away, and it’s harder for the seller to claim it was your fault. If the device has a camera, check the lens for scratches and take a test picture. If the seller doesn’t cooperate when you flag issues, try contesting the charge with your credit card company, which can often get your money back.
2) Use customer service to your advantage. If you buy online with a vendor such as Amazon, use the online chat feature to give feedback on the purchase. A lot of customers find they can get issues addressed quickly by flagging problems this way.
3) Plan to rewrap. Sometimes when you buy refurbished, the original box is damaged or missing. If you are giving the item as a gift, you might want to put some care into making sure it looks nice when you give it.
4) Don’t toss the old electronics! If you are upgrading electronics, your older devices could still be working. Consider giving them to a friend or donating them to a nonprofit.
How to keep electronics out of the trash year-round
No one walks into the store and thinks “I’m going to buy something unfixable!” But how do we know which products are designed to last?
Repair scores that list how fixable a device is before we make an expensive purchase can help. Repair scores for tech such as laptops, phones, and appliances, are like EnergyGuide labels for repairability. They provide consumers with a 1 through 10 score that measures availability of spare parts, ease of disassembly, and longevity of software support, before we purchase expensive devices. Manufacturers already have these scores because of laws in other countries, American consumers deserve to see them too.
Director, Designed to Last Campaign, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Lucas leads PIRG’s Designed to Last campaign, fighting against obsolescence and e-waste and winning concrete policy changes that extend electronic consumer product lifespans and hold manufacturers accountable for forcing upgrades or disposal.
Senior Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Nathan leads U.S. PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign, working to pass legislation that will prevent companies from blocking consumers’ ability to fix their own electronics. Nathan lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.