Desktops

Should You Buy Refurbished Electronics?

If you’re looking to save money on electronics, it is smart to consider a device that has been used—or at least opened—in exchange for a significant discount. Many manufacturers and retailers offer refurbished laptopssmartphones, and other electronics that have been returned, then repaired until they’re just like new, and finally put back on sale for less than list price.

Only a small number of refurbs—about 5 percent, according to a 2011 survey by technology consulting firm Accenture—are defective. Some haven't even been touched by the original owner; they might have been returned because a delivery guy nicked the box during shipping.

In other cases, when there is a true defect, a retailer such as Best Buy sends the item to an authorized repair center or the manufacturer for inspection, repair, and repackaging. And, of course, repricing.

For a consumer, the savings can be substantial. At Best Buy, for example, you can purchase a refurbished Xbox One console for $180, a substantial discount on the original price of $299.

On Nikon’s website, a DF SLR body sells for $2,300, a tidy savings on Amazon's $2,746 price.

But not every refurbished item is a bargain, so it pays to do your homework. Target, for example, is selling the Samsung UN55JU6400F 55-inch smart TV for $720. When you see the original price of $1,200, you might think that's a great deal. 

But a little online research reveals that the set in question is a 2015 model, and Walmart is selling the same set in nonrefurbished condition for $649. What's more, the 2016 model, the UN55KU6300, is available new for less than $800 at any number of outlets.

Apple presents refurb fans with an unusual opportunity. Because the company’s products are rarely discounted anywhere, savvy shoppers scan the company’s certified refurbished section hoping to take advantage of discounts of 10 to 25 percent.

A recent 12-inch Macbook with a 1.1 Ghz Intel Core M3 processor and 256 gigs of flash storage sells for $1,099. The original price: $1,399.

Indeed, sites like Refurb Tracker monitor Apple's refurb inventory, sending you an alert when the item you want pops up on the site. Refurb Tracker also provides a history section that informs you which configurations are currently available, when they were last in stock, and the most recent price.

That can help you determine whether you're pursuing a rare machine—in which case you might want to set your alarm for the wee hours when Apple often adds new inventory—or a relatively common computer that is likely to be there in the morning.

Kyle Wiens, CEO of tech repair site iFixit, thinks buying refurbished can be smart, even if you don't care about getting a deal. “Every computer I've ever bought has been a refurb,” he says.

He explains that refurbished electronics get a once-over from a technician, which doesn't happen with most new products, so they might be more reliable. Refurbs are also environmentally friendly—it's far less wasteful to repair and repackage an existing product than to manufacture a new one. “People have this fixation with new, and I don’t understand it,” Wiens says. “It’s a good buy. It’s better for everybody.”

4 Tips for Buying Refurbished

  • Keep an eye on return policies. Apple offers a 14-day return policy for new and refurbished products. But printer manufacturer Epson follows a stricter policy, accepting returns only on defective merchandise.
  • Understand credit card protection—or lack thereof. Some cards offer purchase protection for items such as laptops or cameras but not if the products have been used. Check the fine print to see whether your card excludes refurbished goods.
  • Look for a long warranty period. On the low end, retailers offer 30 days, but you can often get 90. Apple provides a yearlong warranty.
  • Buy from brands you trust. Purchasing a refurbished laptop from Best Buy, which sends all refurbished products to authorized repair technicians, is most likely safer than purchasing the same laptop from your local repair shop. If you’re buying from a source that isn’t as well-known, do your research before handing over your cash.

Where to Shop

Here's a rundown on warranties and what's offered at some of the major sellers of refurbished electronics.

  • Amazon: The huge online retailer sells refurbished, used, and open-box products under Amazon Warehouse. Be careful, though: The company doesn't include warranties on these items.
  • Apple: All of Apple’s refurbished products come with a yearlong warranty, which is reassuring if you’re worried about the lifespan of your gadgets. The discounts aren’t steep, but $100 off an iPad Air 2 ain’t nothing to sneeze at.
  • Best Buy: The company’s Best Buy Outlet store sells open-box, preowned, and refurbished products, all under one online roof. Warranties range from 90 days to one year, depending on the product.
  • GameStop: The video game store offers used games, tablets, and consoles. Preowned games and electronics are tested and repaired but come with a slim seven-day return window (probably to prevent customers from binge-playing, then returning them for a refund). If you’re looking to save a few bucks or get a deal on an older game or console, you can’t go wrong with this retailer.

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