Smarter shopping: What does refurbished mean?

By Julio Franco · 17 replies
Apr 19, 2018
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  1. When you see a product labeled as "refurbished," you may assume it's used or in poor condition. It doesn't take much shopping around to find refurbs with prices ranging from great to unreal — any smart shopper would assume there's a catch. Consider just a few price tags:

    • iPad Pro (10.5"): $649 new, $549 refurbished from Apple (15% off)
    • Samsung Galaxy S7: $570 new, $400 refurbished from Samsung (30% off)
    • Dell Latitude 5480: $989 new, $520 refurbished from Dell (47% off)

    Refurbished deals can look like they're too good to be true, but that's not always the case. At the same time, buying refurbs does require caution. Here's what you need to know about refurbs to get a deal instead of a dud.

    'Refurbished' Can Mean Different Things

    Shopping for refurbished products can be tough because different retailers may mean different things when they call a product "refurbished." While the term always refers to an item that's been inspected and repaired, the amount of work done can vary significantly.

    For the most part, these are the terms used to describe refurbished products:

    • Refurbished: A product restored to like-new condition, though the definition of "like-new condition" varies. Factory-refurbished or manufacturer-refurbished products are likely to be the best refurbs — but also the most expensive. Items refurbished by a third party might have just been given a quick once-over before being put up for sale.
    • Certified: Products that have been tested to ensure they're in good working order, but not usually repaired. As with refurbished, the definition of "good working order" can vary.
    • Pre-owned: While some refurbished products are returns or damaged items that have been repaired, some are outright used. This isn't necessarily bad, as long as they've been refurbished properly.

    Let's look at what Apple sells as a refurbished iPhone as an example. On top of being inspected and repaired, refurbished iPhones also have a new battery and outer shell. These upgrades are important when buying refurbished electronics, since products naturally become scuffed up with use and batteries wear out with age. Refurbished iPhones from Apple even come in a brand-new box with all original accessories and have the same 1-year warranty a new product gets — so there's no discernible difference between buying a new iPhone or a refurbished one.

    Factory- or manufacturer-refurbished products are likely to be the best refurbs — but also the most expensive.

    But if you're looking for a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, you'll see Samsung sells its refurbished models as "certified pre-owned." While "certified" usually means a product has only been inspected, we'd consider these phones to be refurbished. Samsung completely rebuilds these handsets, replacing any damaged components. Though the company makes no specific promises about a new battery or outer shell, the phones they sell are typically in good condition. And like Apple's refurbished models, they come in a new box with all the original accessories and a 1-year warranty.

    Not every refurbished product will go through such a detailed process — and many retailers don't do much to explain what repairs products have received before they wind up on store shelves. So it's on you to be a careful shopper and make sure you know what you're getting before you buy.

    Know Who Refurbished the Product

    Because the condition of "refurbished" products can vary, it's important to know who refurbished an item before you buy. It's best to buy refurbished products directly from the manufacturer. Not only does the manufacturer know the product best, but they'll often include a 1-year warranty with refurbished products. A long warranty indicates the refurbisher stands behind the product, basically guaranteeing it'll work.

    A 1-year warranty is as good as you're going to get on a refurbished product.

    A 1-year warranty is as good as you're going to get on a refurbished device. And for many electronics, it's the same warranty you'd get on a brand-new gadget. Products refurbished by a third party will have a shorter warranty, typically ranging from 30 to 90 days. That offers some reassurance that the product is in good working order, but not as much as with a longer warranty from the manufacturer.

    And if you're counting on warranty protection provided by your credit card — many of which offer extended warranties as a benefit — don't be too sure. Your credit card's protection may explicitly exclude used or refurbished items. Don't assume; check to see if you're covered!

    Buy From a Reputable Retailer

    While buying from the manufacturer is best, items purchased this way also tend to be the most expensive. Grabbing a refurb from Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, or Walmart — all of which carry a range of refurbs — will get you a lower price but a shorter warranty. And if you're considering a retailer you're not familiar with, you'll want to do research first. Check reviews of the retailer and its products so you know if they're reliable.

    Regardless of the retailer you buy from, you'll want to know its return policy. Like a warranty, a good return policy shows the retailer stands by its products — and if you have problems, you can return items for a refund or exchange. Be wary of retailers selling products as is or with no return policy. You're buying a product that has, for some reason or another, seen some wear. If you find it doesn't work when you open the box, you want to be able to take it back for an exchange. If you buy a product as is, you're stuck with it.

    Refurbs sold without a return policy can be amazing deals, but they do carry some risk. If you aren't willing to take the risk (and potentially throw away your money), be sure to buy from a retailer that offers a generous return policy between seven to 30 days.

    Refurbished Can Be Like New — But It's Not New

    Some refurbished items actually are as good as new, and they may even actually be new. However, for some reason, these items can't be sold as new — they could've been floor models, been returned during their return window, had their packaging damaged, or could be defective in some way. And while that last possibility may concern you, all refurbs have been repaired and inspected to ensure they're in like-new condition, so they should function as well as a brand-new product. The only difference may be the price.

    The biggest downside of buying refurbished is you'll never get the latest, greatest products. At best, you'll be getting items that are a few months old — but you can expect more refurbished stock after a product has been on the market for about a year. (This is especially true with smartphones, as refurbished, pre-owned models will flood the marketplace after a new model is released.)

    You can expect more refurbished stock after a product has been on the market for about a year.

    For appliances like vacuum cleaners, you probably don't care whether it's the newest model as long as it works. But for electronics like smartphones and laptops, you have to be aware you're getting an older model, one that probably won't perform as well as the latest systems. While a model a year or two old will be fine for most users, you don't want to buy electronics that are too old. No amount of refurbishing will make them as fast as the newest models.

    Another factor to consider is battery life. Any product powered by a lithium-ion battery will lose battery power over time, which can make buying older models a bit dicey. This is especially the case with smartphones — in part because we usually don't think phones have enough battery life when they're brand-new. While any decent refurbisher should replace the battery if it's particularly degraded, there's no guarantee. Apple is the only retailer that assures the batteries in its smartphones or tablets are brand-new.

    When you buy refurbished, it's a good idea to compare the refurbished model to new models. If you need the features of a newer model, either wait until it's available in refurbished form or shell out the cash to buy it new. Sometimes you may even find the newer model has a competitive price — and if so, it can be worth picking up the latest product.

    Where to Shop for Refurbished Products

    As we mentioned earlier, you should start your refurb shopping with the manufacturers. Here are a few to look into:

    Apple: Its refurbs all come with a 1-year warranty, and many have new batteries and outer shells. This is often the best way to buy Apple products, though sometimes you'll find sales on new products at Best Buy or Target that beat these deals.

    • Apple: Its refurbs all come with a 1-year warranty, and many have new batteries and outer shells. This is often the best way to buy Apple products, though sometimes you'll find sales on new products at Best Buy or Target that beat these deals.
    • Samsung: Its phones all come with a 1-year warranty.
    • Dell: Most of its refurbs have a 1-year warranty.
    • Lenovo: Most of its refurbs come with a 1-year warranty.

    If you're looking for lower prices — or more variety — a third-party retailer may be the way to go. Just be aware that with most third-party retailers, it's not clear who refurbished a product or what was done to it — so pay careful attention to the product description, and be sure the product matches its description when you receive it. Warranty coverage can also vary from product to product, so check warranty information carefully.

    • Amazon Renewed: Like Amazon proper, it sells a little of everything, and all of it comes with a minimum 90-day warranty.
    • Best Buy: This retailer offers everything from headphones to smartwatches.
    • Newegg: It offers a wide variety of electronics.
    • Walmart: It sells refurbished models of just about anything. However, the company doesn't have a specific page for refurbished items, so you'll have to search for the item you want.

    Bear in mind, these aren't exhaustive lists. Most manufacturers and retailers offer a refurbished selection of some sort. If you don't see the product of your choice here, search for it. You may find a bargain by buying refurbished!

    Elizabeth Harper is a contributing writer at dealnews. Republished with permission.

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  2. USAvenger

    USAvenger TS Booster Posts: 86   +86

    I generally stay away from refurbs but I purchased a 27-inch 1440p BenQ refurbished monitor in November of 2016 and it was "like new". I've had no issues with it whatsoever and I really don't think that it was used very much the first time around. As always, YMMV.
     
  3. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 4,094   +2,585

    My 2nd wife was refurbished and only lasted a few years before I discovered all the hidden defects .......
     
  4. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,936   +2,299

    While I'm skeptical about buying a refurbished product, I've changed my car 15 times over the last 20 years, never once to a new one, as I don't see the value in a new car. That's one example where buying a used product is actually better, IMO.
     
    p51d007 likes this.
  5. Burty117

    Burty117 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 3,287   +1,054

    A car has a removable battery ;)
     
    drjekelmrhyde, Jeff Re and p51d007 like this.
  6. Hydra9268

    Hydra9268 TS Rookie

    Refurbished means a repaired broken object. The difference between used and refurbished is that: one is no longer new, and the other used to be broken. When Apple cut the battery ribbon on my iPhone, they were forced to give me a replacement. Their terms of service never state the condition for the replacement. So they gave me a refurbished model. About six months later the charging port became defective to the point where the phone would not reliably charge. On principle never buy refurbished technology. It is the equivalent of buying a salvage title vehicle.
     
  7. Hydra9268

    Hydra9268 TS Rookie

    Oh you.
     
  8. Puiu

    Puiu TS Evangelist Posts: 2,967   +1,391

    I've had no major problems so far with refurbished products and I also buy second hand ones too. But the price difference must be bigger than 10-15% for me to even look at them.
    As a side-note, sometimes refurbished also covers products that were used by shops in showrooms. They generally have small scratches from people picking them up.
     
  9. toooooot

    toooooot TS Booster Posts: 121   +44

    I was stupid to buy a new car once. then I switched to a luxury model priced the same but driven few years...Now like the rest of you I say "Let someone else take that first deprecation dive" There are too many fun options which are very affordable as few years pass after release.
     
    p51d007 and VitalyT like this.
  10. toooooot

    toooooot TS Booster Posts: 121   +44

    I d never buy refurb PC components at the price newegg lists them with 90 day warranty. Thats a joke especially when it comes to things like Video cards that get really hot. CL at least has stuff often 40-60% cheaper.
     
  11. Burty117

    Burty117 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 3,287   +1,054

    This, I got a pair of £600 Tannoy speakers from Richersounds.co.uk in the UK for £200 because they had been used in the test room in their shop, Just means they've never been badly handled and definitely work :D
     
    Puiu likes this.
  12. MoeJoe

    MoeJoe Banned Posts: 837   +440

    I've purchased 'Certified' used ultra books that were as good as new with a substantial discount. Beats the heck out of paying full-retail or seasonally discounted prices - without having to wait for the steep discounting that normally occurs nearing the end of a particular products production/marketing cycle.
     
  13. OutlawCecil

    OutlawCecil TS Guru Posts: 420   +266

    I've now had 4 new Toyotas in a row. I pay my car payment and all oil changes and maintenance is covered. No breakdowns, no unexpected costs, no repairs in the first 2-3 years before trading it in. THAT is the benefit. I do plan to eventually pay off one, but it's nice taking new cars and having no worries at all. Pretty affordable too actually.
     
  14. GregonMaui

    GregonMaui TS Enthusiast Posts: 64   +14

    No. Refurbished often means much more than that as well. A returned product - perfectly good, but returned because the purchaser changed their mind, not because anything is wrong with it, also counts.

    Reputable companies will resell these products after going through an extensive testing and refurbishment process. The testing is oftentimes more extensive than the testing for completely new products, therefore the likelihood of failure is far less than a new one. Reputable companies will also include warranty protections equal to a completely new product. Here is a link to Apple's refurbishment process page: https://www.apple.com/shop/browse/home/specialdeals/refurbfaq_popup.

    Pays to know your vendor, and what you are getting.
     
    veLa likes this.
  15. GregonMaui

    GregonMaui TS Enthusiast Posts: 64   +14

    Also, check your vendor. Apple allows you to buy extended warranties on their refurbished products.

    Refurbished often means much more than a repaired product. A returned product - perfectly good, but returned because the purchaser changed their mind, not because anything is wrong with it, also counts.

    Reputable companies will resell these products after going through an extensive testing and refurbishment process. The testing is oftentimes more extensive than the testing for completely new products, therefore the likelihood of failure is far less than a new one. Reputable companies will also include warranty protections equal to a completely new product. Here is a link to Apple's refurbishment process page: https://www.apple.com/shop/browse/home/specialdeals/refurbfaq_popup. I have no reason to doubt that Samsung and others also allow extended warranties.

    Pays to know your vendor, and what you are getting.

    As anecdotal evidence, I purchased a refurbished 2014 MBP in 2014. It has worked flawlessly and has had zero defects. The battery is still reporting 87%, In fact I had it checked at Apple (save yourself time, use the built-in diagnostics, they are the same as the Apple technicians use). The are not allowed to replace the battery, even a full customer pay, unless the battery is recording as expended (1000 cycles or something) and below 80%, I presume this is an environmental issue. I did extend the warranty with AppleCare, and never used it. Next time, I will not and use the money saved to be a downpayment on my next purchase. Although with Intel not providing big speed bumps on CPUs anymore, and SSDs lasting 10s of years, not sure when a replacement will be needed.
     
  16. Mighty Duck

    Mighty Duck TS Addict Posts: 107   +51

    My current PC was built with a used motherboard and CPU combo, and have found no problems at all. I chose used because it was the difference between a i7 4790k vs a i5 6600k. Now, a used GPU, well, that's something I wouldn't risk to buy, especially in these days crazy crypto mining days. Those horses have probably been ridden to exhaustion.
     
  17. veLa

    veLa TS Evangelist Posts: 811   +251

    You sir are correct in the definition.
     
  18. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 13,717   +3,143

    Much to all of the experience I've had with refurbished goods, is with my Nikon D-SLRs.

    Adorama Camera frequently offers both Body only, and body and lens combos. If with a lens, it's usually the stock kit lens for it's respective body model.

    Some things, I've experienced, or are using my judgment,, insight (?), and just plain what I hope are good guesses.

    Since all of this merchandise is not of the current model run, I believe that:

    !: Some of these "refurbs" are actually brand new cameras. It makes good sense if you think about it..

    Price has dropped somewhat from the previous generation, while features have been improved and/or added. It makes sense to realize the maker can no longer sell the goods at retail, once the model has been superseded.

    In many cases, these "refurbs" may simply be stock sent back by the dealers as it's not moving, and likely won't. At which point Nikon just puts it in a plain white box, chops the warranty to 90 days, thereby cutting their, and their dealer's losses, and unloads it, cheap!

    Every shutter activation becomes part of a digital cameras "metadata", and that info is supplied to the user. When you get a "refurb", with less than 2 dozen clicks on the shutter mechanism, it becomes hard to imagine these bodies were ever out on the street..

    2: Some of these cameras may have been DOA. A stock defective return is one a customer has never held, and I consider that a good omen, since the darned thing broke before you could be aggravated with the process of being disappointed, angry, and having to send a product back you had gotten used to owning. So,I consider shipping a product to a dealer, "the final step in QA & QC". Here again, you're getting a new product, with the bugs ironed out..(y)

    That's my experience with one particular brand, from one particular dealer. I've never gotten burned.

    3: Although generally, I think it's fair to say, a good chunk of refurbished goods, may be from stock defective merchandise. I don't believe the goods are haunted by goblins, or are "ill fated", so as long as you know the supplier to be reputable, and the factory is the entity which has performed the repairs, in most cases, you should be good to go.

    I imagine there's a shadowy side to refurbishing goods. One has to wonder if these are in fact, "used goods", and likely should have been sold as such. The prime suspects here are, trade ins of smartphones, tablets and the like.

    I'm flat out afraid of "refurbished" monitors, and I wouldn't touch therm with someone else's ten foot pole.
    Possible wear to the back light ,and and time on the PSU filter capacitors, are both things to be concerned with. I see refurb monitors on sale at Newegg from time to time, and they're usually ancient models. Here, these panels could be from a business trade in /step up transaction, and I would want no part of.owning one. Monitors new and on sale are plentiful enough, so that you don't have to chance a used or repaired unit.
     

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