A Guide to Buying Refurbished Electronics

When you should choose refurbished over new and how to do it without getting scammed

Dec 17

Have you been hearing a lot about refurbished products? It’s because there are tons of fantastic deals out there, and these devices and appliances can last for years. However, because of some ill-intentioned merchants, it can feel a little sketchy when you start to shop. 

Scouring the internet, you'll find many ways to buy a single type of product. Say you want a MacBook—you could get it brand new, used, refurbished, straight from Apple, from a big box store like Best Buy, from a stranger on eBay, etc. And then, of course, you'll have to decide if you're more concerned about your budget or the item's model year.

So, when there’s so much to consider, why go refurbished? And if you opt for refurbishment, how do you do so without getting scammed? Let’s define the concept first. 

What Does Refurbished Mean?

Refurbished electronics are products that have been bought, returned, or salvaged, and then reconditioned or fixed up. Every restoration has its own story, so the details about each item are important. You could buy refurbished products from the original manufacturer or from a third party. There’s a theory that buying refurbs from the initial source is the safer bet, but reputable third-party distributors of refurbished electronics would debate that.

There are a lot of success stories, though there are cautionary tales as well, so it's best to educate yourself as much as possible before making a purchase. Sellers are expected to have run a quality assurance check on refurbished items before putting them up for sale, and it’s also best practice for minor scratches, marks, or blemishes to be cleared up with notes about each item's exact condition included in any listing. 

How Refurbished Differs From Open-box and Used

It’s important not to mistake used electronics or open-box ones for refurbished products. Something used is simply that—bought, used, and returned. A typical open-box product was purchased and opened, but it’s generally never actually been used. 

How Buying Refurbished Benefits the Environment

It’s no secret that electronics production is not great for the environment. According to Environmental Leader, the Global E-waste Monitor 2020 recorded that people generated 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste last year. And with the already out-of-hand existential threat of climate change creating a necessary concern among consumers, continuing to be coerced into buying a new iPhone every few years can be frustrating. 

Refurbished products can last for years and work effectively. For most people, the capabilities of an older model of computer, smartphone, or tablet will still meet their everyday needs and then some. Buying refurbished electronics is a way to stay connected without adding to that ever-growing waste pile. 

Refurbished vs. New

On top of the environmental impact of buying new, there are a few other disadvantages. First off, brand new electronics continue to grow more and more expensive. The main selling point of refurbished electronics distributors is that their capable products come at significantly lower price points than brand new products. The older the product, the lower the price will be.

Lower prices are a benefit for obvious reasons, but consider what would happen if your laptop or washing machine suddenly broke and you simply couldn't wait until there was room in your budget for a new one?

Then there's a simple need vs. want aspect. Frequently, when you buy a new device or appliance, you don’t need all of its updated, fancy features. If the primary function of your phone is professional, for example, then a nicer camera might not interest you (depending on your line of work, of course). But if you love the excitement of customizing and exploring the latest and greatest tech, refurbished is probably not for you—be prepared to pay a premium for your devices

How to Find the Best Refurbished Electronics

Any electronic device can be refurbished well if given the proper care and if it’s not too damaged in the first place. How does an everyday person tell whether or not a listing is a scam? There are a few ways to do your due diligence: 

  • Research the seller. Many third-party vendors have websites, user reviews, social media feeds, and more to help you determine their history and quality of work. 
  • Consider the return policy. It might be a little while before you figure out if there are problems with the product, so a generous return policy is a good thing.
  • Set your expectations accordingly. Decide what you want to use the device for, and then determine the level of quality you need. If you just need to email and watch Netflix, maybe you can save and go with an older computer. If you’re a programmer who needs more RAM and processing power, then opt for newer refurbished electronics or brand-new products. 

Where to Find Deals on Refurbished Electronics 

Around long holiday weekends, new product launches, and various releases, sales on refurbished laptops, desktop computers, phones, tablets, televisions, and other electronics will pop up in advertisements, email blasts, etc. If you don't want to wait for a special promotion, StackSocial’s Hot Tech Deals often feature new sales on refurbished electronics that are well-reviewed, affordable options for shoppers searching for a new-to-them device. 

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