How to buy refurbished gadgets

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Buying a refurbished tech product will save you money compared to buying it new. It also gives a device a second life instead of sending it off to be recycled. And especially during these times when demand is high for all kinds of tech, buying refurbished is sometimes the only way to get your hands on a product when retail channels are strained or just completely out of new merchandise.

Those are all good things — yet “refurbished” is still a loaded word for a lot of people. New means new, a product that nobody else has used. On the other hand, buying something refurbished can be a gamble, despite the fact that the product is probably more affordable.

If it has been refurbished, that likely means the product was either broken or roughed up enough to warrant a repair. It could also mean that whoever bought it simply decided they didn’t want it and returned it to the store. The definition of what makes for a refurbished product varies depending on the seller, though something that may ease some worry is that there are US laws that prevent once-used tech from being sold as new. We’ve seen it in action, too. In 2019, New York City filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile alleging that it had deceived customers by selling used phones to customers who had paid for new phones.

Still, buying refurbished brings up a lot of questions. Did the original manufacturer refurbish the product, or was it done by a third-party company? Was the product restored to a like-new state, or will it look visibly used when you receive it? Was it professionally cleaned and sanitized, and does it come with new accessories? Does it have a warranty, and who will be accountable if it breaks?

It’s easy to see why a lot of people might prefer to just pay more for something new. However, it’s possible to both save money and not get swindled when buying refurbished products. Below, we’ve laid out some tips that you can follow when buying refurbished tech as well as links to trustworthy retailers. None of this is fail-proof, but it will make the process a lot safer — and you can end up with some great devices at lower prices.

 Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

What to look for when you want to buy refurbished

In general, if you purchase a refurbished product from its original manufacturer, it’s far less of a gamble than buying from a third-party retailer. The manufacturer is likely to have higher standards for refreshing and repackaging the product, and — crucially — should have access to authentic materials and components. But there are also many companies that exist solely to refurbish products, and they can do a good job, too. You’ll just need to be extra vigilant, ask the right questions, and make sure all of your questions get answered.

In other words, if you’re buying a refurbished product, it helps to have criteria. This will quickly become second nature once you start making a habit of looking at refurbished tech. Here are some questions to start with:

  • What condition is it in? Is it in like-new condition or somewhat used?
  • Does it come with all original accessories and documentation?
  • What kind of warranty does it have, and who is providing it?

The answers to those questions aren’t necessarily obvious. Sometimes, the product might be visibly damaged, come in a different box, or only have a six-month warranty. That’s all right, so long as you know in advance of buying it. In fact, you can often use this info to your advantage to save some money, as resellers may sometimes lower the cost if the product isn’t in perfect condition. You’ll just have to decide what you’re willing to settle for.

What is an open-box product?

Sometimes products will be listed as “open-box.” This term can mean something different depending on the retailer, but most use it to mean that the product was opened by a customer who bought it, then it was returned to the store in its original box with all of its accessories. In other words, it didn’t need to be refurbished because the assumption is that it either wasn’t used at all or was only used once and then repackaged. Generally, it’s safe to assume that an open-box product will in good condition, though it never hurts to ask for clarification or seek the info somewhere on the webpage.

 Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge
Some people might feel iffy about buying refurbished earphones or other tech products you use in or on your ears.

Is there anything that I shouldn’t buy refurbished?

Ultimately, that’s your call to make. Some staffers at The Verge make a sour face at the idea of using refurbished headphones, especially in-ear headphones. I think it’s natural to have that reaction, considering how intimately you would use a product like that. Many, but not all, companies thoroughly clean refurbished products before reselling them. Though, for some people, something that has been used that way is forever unclean.

In my opinion, the most important thing to make sure of when buying a refurbished product is that the warranty is good enough to support you if the device fails. And if the retailer says that your product will arrive in a clean, well-packaged state, make sure that what you receive is representative of their claims.

Where can I find refurbished tech products?

Refurbished products don’t usually get the spotlight from retailers like Best Buy, Amazon, or B&H Photo. You also won’t find them sitting on the homepage of Apple, Google, Nintendo, Sonos, or Olympus, to name a few. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find refurbs on these sites. Here are some places to try.

bestbuy-sign-logo

Best Buy’s Outlet, as it’s called, is the retailer’s dedicated site for refurbished tech. Here’s Best Buy’s claim for its refurbs:

Refurbished products have been repaired and restored to like-new condition. All parts and accessories that would have been included with the original product are present, and our thorough inspection process ensures that the product is clean and in working condition.

Products purchased through the Outlet are subject to Best Buy’s standard return policy. In terms of warranty coverage, it says that refurbished products sold through its Outlet “often include a limited warranty through Best Buy.” Given that it doesn’t broadly give all refurbished products a warranty, it’s worth investigating a product before you buy it.

You can also browse for the product at Best Buy you’re actually looking for, then scroll down the page until you see the “Buying Options” tab. Click it to see some other, more affordable options for buying similar devices. Sometimes, what you’ll see are refurbs, but most of the time, they are simply open-box returns.

Best Buy page listing for the Google Pixelbook Go
You might find refurbished or used options at Best Buy by clicking the “Buying Options” button.

Amazon Warehouse is the section of the retailer’s site dedicated to used, refurbished products — or “renewed,” as Amazon calls it. If you shop regularly for tech on Amazon, you stand to save some money here. Here is the fine print from Amazon on its renewed devices:

[Amazon Renewed products] have been professionally inspected and tested to work and look like new by Amazon-qualified and performance-managed suppliers. The inspection and testing process typically includes a full diagnostic test, replacement of any defective parts, and a thorough cleaning process carried out by the supplier, or by Amazon. The products have no visible cosmetic imperfections when held 12 inches away. The products may be packaged in a generic box and come with the accessories expected for a new product, with exceptions, if any, mentioned on the product detail page.

You can discover renewed products for lots of tech products here. You can also find Warehouse deals by looking into the “used” options on the product page of the device you’re interested in. If Amazon offers a refurbished or used option, it will be listed right at the top. In the “condition” section listed next to the price, it will include any disclaimers you should be aware of in relation to the product’s condition.

Amazon Warehouse listing for Devil May Cry 5
Amazon Warehouse’s refurbished or used options are usually located at the top of the “used” offers

Amazon also owns a company called Woot that often hosts appealing deals on refurbished tech. That site is usually up front about warranty information for each device, as well as the condition that it’s in. Woot applies a 90-day limited warranty to most of its products, though you can purchase a SquareTrade protection plan at checkout.

eBay is another good source for refurbished tech of all kinds. Official reseller pages from brands like Nintendo (which, at the time this was written, wasn’t taking orders) exist, which you can trust for selling high-quality refurbished products. Best Buy, Dell, DJI, and other major retailers sell refurbished tech through eBay, and you can usually trust those, too. Otherwise, if you’re buying from a one-off seller you’ve never used before, check their ratings and reviews as a guide, and refer to the set of questions we mentioned above when you shop.

apple event logo

Apple has one of the best refurbishment programs around. All of the products sold as refurbished will arrive in “like new” condition with at least 15 percent in savings compared to the cost of a brand-new device. Products will ship in a white box with all of the original accessories. In addition to having a one-year warranty, you can purchase AppleCare for your refurbished purchase. Just to give you an idea of the level of care Apple puts into its refurbs: it replaces the battery and the outer shell of all iOS devices.

 Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google sells a few refurbished devices (when this was written, it was just selling the Pixelbook and a three-pack of Google Wifi mesh routers) through its Google Store. It says that these products are in like-new condition and have been cleaned and repaired. They come with a one-year warranty directly through Google.

 Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge
Several Sonos products are cheaper when you buy them refurbished through the company.

Sonos sells refurbished audio products on its site, each of which comes with a one-year warranty from the company and a 45-day money-back guarantee. Additionally, Sonos says each product has received internal and external cleaning and inspection and comes in a brand-new box with all original accessories and cables.

 Photo by James Bareham / The Verge
Nintendo’s Switch rarely sees a discount, though you can save money by purchasing one refurbished through its site.

Nintendo usually sells refurbished Nintendo Switch consoles through a page that’s somewhat hidden. It’s currently sold out due to the demand spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic. In normal situations, you’d be able to save some money on a refurbished unit. Here’s what Nintendo says of its process for refurbishment:

The Nintendo Switch is now available as an Authentic Nintendo Refurbished set only from Nintendo, and it comes with our standard one year warranty. Although it may have minor cosmetic blemishes, it is guaranteed to be fully functional. We think you will find the standards for Authentic Nintendo Refurbished Products are VERY high.

Oculus face-on Photo by James Bareham / The Verge
The Oculus Rift headset is available refurbished through Oculus at a discounted rate.

Looking for a VR headset? Oculus has been selling refurbished Oculus Rift headsets for $299. It says that you can expect your purchase to have been “inspected, cleaned, and tested to function and look like new.” I should mention that I purchased one of these to play Half-Life: Alyx, and my experience buying refurbished was great.

Not sure if your favorite brand sells refurbished? Just search!

The chances are in your favor that your favorite brand sells refurbished tech. I was in the market for a desktop graphics card upgrade recently, and I found that both EVGA and Zotac had a steady flow of refurbished (sometimes referred to as B-stock) graphics cards. The odds were also in my favor when I was looking for refurbished lenses for my Olympus camera. Nikon offers its own refurbished products, too. Just search!

It’s possible that some brands don’t offer their own dedicated shop for refurbished goods. In that case, sites like Backmarket, Decluttr, Daily Steals, and others offer refurbs — and usually with a good warranty. In fact, there are some sites that are dedicated to selling refurbished products. Though, you might have to do some extra snooping around to find what you’re looking for.

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