Refurbished Electronics 101: How to Save Up To 50 Percent

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Looking for nearly new electronics at a fraction of the price? Find out how to buy refurbished laptops, phones and more.

Right now, you could spend $249 on a brand-new 32 GB iPod Touch or you could spend $159 for the refurbished version. Both come from the Apple store in a sparkling white box with new accessories, a new battery and a one-year warranty.

Which do you choose?

What are refurbished electronics?

Refurbished electronics are basically items that have been opened or used at some point. It could be because of any of the following reasons:

  • An item bought and returned because the customer didn’t like it.
  • An item bought and returned for a cosmetic defect.
  • An item bought and returned for a functional defect.
  • A display or demo item.
  • A recalled item.

You may be worried you’ll be buying a lemon if you get a refurbished electronic device, but that concern may be overblown. A 2011 report from consulting firm Accenture found that only 5 percent of returned electronics had an actual product defect.

Even for those that are defective, most major manufacturers have a rigorous process by which they test, repair and then retest returned items before selling them as refurbished. As a result, you may end up with a refurbished device that has some minor cosmetic issues such as scratches or discoloration, but it should work flawlessly out of the box.

Where should you buy them?

Because refurbished electronics may be used, you always want to buy them from a trusted source. Typically, that means a major retailer or manufacturer.

Look online in the clearance or outlet sections of these companies’ websites:

You can find plenty of refurbished electronics on eBay as well, but buying through eBay can be tricky. Contact the manufacturer to see if the auction is being run by an authorized reseller, and then double-check their feedback for any recurring problems.

If the seller isn’t authorized by the manufacturer, you may want to move along. Unauthorized sellers may have vastly different standards when it comes to testing and repairing refurbished items. Plus, these sellers may not offer warranties or accept returns.

How do you know it’s a good deal?

First, look up the going price of the item you’re buying. How much are retailers selling it for brand new?

Refurbished items are often, but not always, a bargain. Just as you would compare prices for any other purchase, shop around before buying a refurbished product.

Beyond price,review how the item was refurbished and what your options are if it ends up being defective. Look for answers to all the following questions.

  • What is the refurbishing process?
  • Is the item tested again after any necessary repairs are made?
  • Could there be cosmetic damage?
  • Does the item come with the same accessories as a new item?
  • Is there a warranty or return policy that will let you send back a defective item?
  • If so, do you need to pay a restocking fee?

Finally, don’t forget to look for coupon codes or promos that may bring your final price down even more.

Is there anything you shouldn’t buy refurbished?

Some people warn against buying refurbished TVs, printers and hard drives, but you probably don’t need to make an entire category of products off-limits.

Instead, never buy something sold “as is.” While most refurbished products are as good as new, there is always the chance you’ll get a defective product that wasn’t repaired correctly. Don’t get stuck with a lemon. Make sure you have a warranty and the opportunity to make a return.

Have you ever bought something refurbished? Was it a deal or a dud? Post a comment below or on our Facebook page with your story.

Stacy Johnson

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I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!


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