Good as new: Why refurbished electronics are the best-kept secret—and the best deals—on Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and more

Rudie Obias

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Refurbished vs. new. (Photo: Amazon/Yahoo Lifestyle)
Refurbished vs. new. (Photo: Amazon/Yahoo Lifestyle)

When your tablet stops working mid-Hulu binge or your laptop inexplicably turns off halfway through an important work e-mail for the sixth time in a row, you know it’s time to replace your device. But before your stomach plummets thinking of the cost of a brand-new item, consider the benefits—and savings—of going with a refurbished product.

Not only do you spend significantly less, but you also make no sacrifices when it comes to functionality: When you buy from a trusted source, refurbished tech is just as reliable as brand new, fresh-out-of-the-box products. Need some convincing? Read on.

Refurbished, renewed, recycled—all good

Different retailers use different terminology, but “refurbished,” “renewed,” and “recycled” all mean the same thing. This is merch that for one reason or another (see below) can’t be sold as new but has been cleaned up, vetted and verified by a retailer or manufacturer. Refurbished does not mean a product was defective or broken

There are a number of reasons products are classified as refurbished: Devices might have been slightly dented or scratched during shipping; they may have had a short life as an in-store demo model; or they could be considered “open box”—returned after a customer has changed his mind. This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. But once a box is open, the item can’t be sold as new.

By law, retailers and manufacturers must identify a product as refurbished or pre-owned before selling it again.

What is “certified refurbished”?

Why spend more, when you can save on a top-notch refurbished phone? (Photo: Getty Images)
Why spend more, when you can save on a top-notch refurbished phone? (Photo: Getty Images)

Refurbished goods might have been given a quick spot check, then deemed good enough for re-sale. But “certified refurbished” (or “factory refurbished”) means more—it indicates that a company specialist inspected and fixed the device. It may even have been restored to “like-new” condition to boost its appeal. Certified refurbished items usually come with a long warranty and strong return policy. In other words, buying certified refurbished is not so different from buying new.

Who can you trust when it comes to refurbished electronics?

If you shop authorized dealers with solid reputations—AmazoneBayWalmart—you can exhale and know that the refurbished items you’re purchasing are in good working condition. But for the absolute highest quality, it’s best to go straight to the source—the manufacturer.

Apple’s refurbished program, for example, takes pre-owned iPhones or MacBooks and might replace batteries, fix circuit boards, and clean and replace displays. The result? High-quality devices available at low prices. If you don’t mind tech that’s a generation or two old, you can get a like-new device that works just as well as a brand-new model for a hefty discount. Refurbished Apple gear comes with a one-year warranty and access to Apple Care, as if it were new.

Smart shopping for refurbished electronics

There are a few things to keep in mind regarding refurbished inventory. As we said, buying “certified” or “factory” refurbished is much better than buying plain old refurbished, because this means a real person who works for the manufacturer paid close attention to the details. Other rules to keep you on the safe side of shopping refurbished:

  • Buy from trusted retailers and manufacturers such as AmazonWalmartNewEggWoot.comBlinqSamsung, and Apple. Always make sure there’s someone to contact—via a customer service number or email—in case an issue arises. You don’t want to buy something refurbished on Craig’s List or from some fly-by-night company you’ve never heard of. Because if something goes wrong, you’re out of luck.

  • Don’t purchase items that are sold “as is.” An “as is” tag on a refurbished item is a tell-tale sign that something is wrong with the product—and it gets the retailer or manufacturer out of its obligation to fix the problem.

  • Check the return policy and the warranty. Most retailers and manufacturers have a 14- to 90-day return policy on refurbished inventory. Don’t buy anything without a return policy, especially when it comes to refurbished items. Look out for words like “all sales are final.” As for a warranty, most reputable companies will give you a 90-day warranty on refurbished goods. It’s rare to find anything longer than 90 days for either returns or warranty on refurbished items, but if you’re able to get a year, go for it, of course!

Bottom line

Buying refurbished is a great way to get the goods you want at a lower price. Just be smart, and don’t fall for rock bottom deals. Play it safe with authorized dealers like Amazon and Walmart or reliable manufacturers like Apple and Samsung. Better to spend a bit more, get a certified product for a dependable source, and have a good warranty and return policy to lean on.

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