Keeping up with all the latest smartphones, tablets, cameras, laptops and TVs can be a very expensive endeavor and it may not be the best way to spend your money. One way to stretch that dollar and extract greater value is to consider buying refurbished electronics instead. They're not new anymore, but products that have been officially refurbished or reconditioned can be found in like-new condition for a fraction of the price.
The Advantages of Buying Refurbished
The main advantage to buying refurbished electronics instead of brand new ones, as described by PC Advisor in the context of buying a laptop, is that you can "get a better specification for the same price." Given the same budget, you will be able to get a product that has higher specifications and more robust features if that product is refurbished, compared to the new price. Instead of a Core i5 processor in that laptop, you may be able to get a Core i7 for the same price. Conversely, you can get the same type of product for less money. The refurbished model may be 15-30% less expensive than when it was new.
Better Than Used
Refurbished is better than used. You could save quite a bit of money by buying used products through sites like eBay and Craigslist, but there are no assurances when it comes to the reliability and working condition of the product when you go with these channels. The warranty may or may not transfer to you as a new owner.
On the other hand, factory refurbished electronics will typically come with a manufacturer warranty. As Lifehacker describes, this is different from third-party refurbished products, so shop carefully. If the manufacturer certifies the product, it means that it has been "carefully tested and brought to the original standards," working in a like-new condition.
Refurbished might even be better than new. Most people would assume that the new product in a new box would be held to the highest possible standard, but that may not always be in the case. Apple Certified Refurbished products are reportedly "tested three times more intensively than a new board off the assembly line." This is according to TechnologyTell, which says that you are "arguably getting something better than a new product." Since these products are tested more vigorously, they are less likely to contain any defects or other problems than their brand new counterparts.
A Green Choice
Buying refurbished products is good for the environment, because electronic waste is reduced. A new customer can put the product to use, rather than having a fully functional item sent to a landfill.
The Down Side to Reconditioned Products
As PC Mag points out, you might want to avoid refurbished products if you want to be "seen with the latest and greatest." This is because the products that are being sold as refurbished are necessarily not new and, as such, are likely not the newest models available on the market. This is particularly true when it comes to the rapid product cycles for electronics that get updated so often.
It also means that you may have fewer options for customization and personalization, as you cannot configure the refurbished product to fit your specifications the same way you may be able to do with a new computer or similar product.
It could have problems. Even if a product is factory reconditioned, it may have been returned for a warranty repair. If one thing has already gone wrong with the product, it's quite possible that other defects or problems will arise at some point in the near future too. This is in addition to any cosmetic damage that the refurbished product may already have.
A shorter or less robust warranty could mean that while you are covered initially if something were to go wrong with your purchase, you may not have the same level of coverage as you would if you bought it brand new.
Certain electronics may present unique problems. Rick Broida from CNET says that you should never buy a refurbished hard drive, printer or television. Hard drives can have mechanical problems and it is not really possible to restore a hard drive to a factory-new condition. Printers can also have similar problems as ink or toner has already cycled through the printer's internals. Broida says that refurbished TVs can be "horrendous" in condition, not receiving "the same loving treatment afforded laptops, tablets, and the like."
Where to Buy Refurbished Electronics
Many retailers and manufacturers sell refurbished products, including the following.
Most products listed in the Special Deals section on the online Apple Store come at a discount of between 15% and 30% off the full retail price. These are typically of the previous generation or older, but Apple guarantees its quality, stating that each item "undergoes a rigorous refurbishment process to make sure it's up to Apple's tough quality standards." They also come with a full 1-year warranty and are eligible for AppleCare protection plans.
Best Buy lists not only refurbished products that it sells itself, but also refurbished electronics sold by marketplace sellers. These run nearly the full gamut of product categories on the site, including computers, smartphones, cameras, appliances and car electronics.
The FAQ page states the refurbished products are customer returns that were subsequently restored to like-new condition by the original manufacturer, third-party company or Best Buy's in-house repair center. Only products assigned a cosmetic grade of A are sold and the standard return policy applies.
In addition to a selection of certified refurbished computers, the Dell Outlet also sells computers and other products that are outlet new or "scratch and dent." Outlet new products are typically canceled orders or returns that have never been opened, while scratch and dent products will have more cosmetic damage than those that have been restored to original factory specifications, but should not be affected in terms of performance or functionality. Products come with free 3-5 day shipping.
Refurbished products sold through the Newegg online store include tablets, speaker systems, Bluetooth devices, headsets and more. While significant savings can be enjoyed, most refurbished products only come with a limited 90-day warranty and cannot be returned for a refund. They may be returned for replacement within the first 30 days. This policy may vary from product to product.
Tiger Direct offers a selection of over 100 refurbished laptops from such manufacturers as Acer, Alienware, Asus, Lenovo and HP. Some items are "off-lease" products, meaning that they were leased to and used by a customer, then subsequently returned to the leasing agent after two to three years. The product is then inspected, repaired, cleaned and repackaged for sale.
Getting the Best Deal
There is no hard and fast answer to whether refurbished products are a good deal or not, as they usually need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. That said, it is best to stick with factory or manufacturer reconditioned products that come with a reasonable warranty. This is a great way to save some money while still getting a high quality product.