By Nathan Proctor, Senior Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair
Welcome to our guide for buying repaired or refurbished electronics with confidence they will last. Even as this year’s semiconductor shortages put electronics in short supply, you can still get great gadgets for a great price.
This is our holiday guide to buying repaired or refurbished electronics with confidence they will last. We’ve included sections on why you should shop refurbished as well as a lot of tips identifying good refurbished gifts, where and how to buy refurbished gifts as well as some tips for after you buy.
Why Shop Refurbished?
Black Friday prices year-round: 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 are even 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. If Americans used our smartphones for one year longer, we would reduce manufacturing material demand by 42.5 million pounds per day — which would be like cutting a jumbo-jet’s weight in raw material use every 17 minutes.
Supply chain issues driving up cost, limiting options: This year, some of the things you might be looking for as gifts might be hard to come by. Luckily, there are plenty of high-quality items for sale that don’t depend on the global supply chain working out the kinks.
Four tips on what makes a good refurbished gift
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. You should also check iFixit’s 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 your 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:
- Televisions and computer monitors have a track record of problems, given their bulk and fragility.
- 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, making replacing those batteries nearly impossible.
Where to shop refurbished electronics
Because buying used increases your risk, who you buy from is critical. If you encounter a problem, does this vendor risk its reputation if it doesn’t help you?
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:
- TheStore.com: Much of The Store’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 one-year warranty. They are also now carefully sanitized so you can feel comfortable bringing them into your home.
- BackMarket.com: 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.com: 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.
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). They come with a minimum 90-day supplier-backed warranty and a 30-day return policy and Amazon has the largest selection.
- 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.
- New Egg: New Egg has a very wide selection of computer products, and also a refurbished marketplace for desktops and laptops and more. Especially for computers, New Egg 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% 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.
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.
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. Read more about how you can sell, donate or recycle those used items by checking our U.S. PIRG blog here.