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What does refurbished mean? What to buy refurbished, how to buy, and where

These days, it seems like there’s a never-ending conveyor belt of electronics circling our lives, but few of us can actually afford every device that catches our eye. Price tags on new gadgets are rarely reasonable. But if you take a dip into the refurbished market, you can get some of those gadgets at decent discounts, and if you’re careful, they’ll be indistinguishable from the new ones. But what does refurbished mean? We’ll get to that in a moment.

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The point is, if you stick to certain categories and only buy from reputable sources, you can get all sorts of great gadgets for less. Glancing at the refurbished section of the Apple Store right now, you can get a refurbished iPhone 11 (with 256GB) for $640, which amounts to a $110 discount. You could also save $80 on an iPhone XR (128GB), or $80 on a 13.3-inch MacBook Air. The lower price point isn’t the only advantage. Refurbished goods have often undergone stricter testing than devices fresh off the production line, and so you’re less likely to encounter a lemon.

What does refurbished mean?

Many people are put off by the “refurbished” tag, but it’s a blanket term that covers a lot of potential scenarios. As with the “renewed” term favored by Amazon, all it tends to mean is the product has been returned. The manufacturer may have repaired a minor or a major fault, it may have been returned because there is cosmetic damage to the product, or it could have been returned because the packaging was damaged. There’s also a chance that the buyer just changed their mind.

In many cases, you’ll get a device that is as good as new.

The manufacturer will fully test the product and make any repairs that are deemed necessary. It will then clean the product up, reset the software to factory conditions where appropriate, and repackage it. In many cases, you’ll get a device that is as good as new. You can also expect it to work every bit as well, and last as long, as a brand new product.

What to buy

The best smartphones, tablets, computers, best laptops, digital cameras, and best TVs can be discounted by up to 50%. We’ve seen suggestions that you should avoid certain types of product, but realistically, refurbs are always a small gamble, no matter what the category of electronics.

You could get a device that has been returned unused. It can’t be resold as new, but for all intents and purposes, it is new. On the other hand, you could get a product that’s scratched, or has a serious recurring problem. You can mitigate the risk in a couple of ways.

Where to buy

This is the most important thing when you buy refurbished: only shop at reputable places. Generally speaking, the bigger the brand is, the better your chances are of getting a properly tested device with a decent warranty.

Here are a few official outlets that we recommend:

  • Apple Store — Devices are tested and certified with a one-year warranty.
  • Samsung — Devices are tested and updated to a like-new condition, complete with a one-year warranty.
  • Amazon Kindle Outlet Store — Devices are tested and certified with one-year warranty.
  • Dell Outlet — Type of refurb labeled, tested, and certified with “as new” warranty.
  • Nikon Outlet — Devices are tested and certified, but only carry a 90-day warranty.
  • Lenovo Outlet — Type of refurb labeled, tested, and certified, usually has a one-year warranty.
  • HP Outlet — Devices are fully tested and offered with “as new” warranty.

That’s by no means an exhaustive list. There are also some big online retailers offering huge discounts for returned and refurbished goods. The difference is that they don’t usually come with warranties. The goods will have been tested and repaired, by either the retailer or the manufacturer, but you’ll probably have to rely on the returns policy if something goes wrong.

Retailers offering refurbished goods:

  • Amazon Warehouse Deals — Returned products that are fully tested.
  • NewEgg Outlet — Refurbs inspected and repaired. Has open box and clearance discounts.
  • Best Buy Outlet — Devices are fully tested and certified with a 90-day warranty.

You should avoid buying from anywhere that doesn’t accept returns. You will find some apparently amazing deals on eBay and through various online sellers, but before you think about buying, read through the seller’s terms and conditions carefully, check its ratings, and look for reviews. If it looks too good to be true then it probably is.

Tip: Sometimes the official eBay stores for large manufacturers offer bigger discounts than their outlets do, so it’s worth checking.

Refurbished vs. renewed

You may notice a similar term to “refurbished” being used on Amazon: renewed. To all intents and purposes, Amazon Renewed products are the same as refurbished products elsewhere. They may not have received official certification from their respective manufacturers, but they have undergone professional inspection, testing, and cleaning by “Amazon-qualified” suppliers.

As such, you can rest assured that “renewed” products should look and work as new, with Amazon stating that all renewed products have “have no visible cosmetic imperfections when held 12 inches away.” In fact, Amazon provides an Amazon Renewed Guarantee which grants you the right to have a replacement or refund within 90 days of receiving a product that doesn’t meet your expectations.

What to check

Regardless of whether we’re talking about a refurbished or renewed product, you should do some research about any device you may buy. Don’t assume it will come with the usual extras; verify what you’ll get with the seller before you buy. Search for common problems by reading reviews and forum discussions. It can be a good idea to compile a list of issues that owners have run into with your chosen product. This research will help you choose carefully and also arm you with some potential flaws to check.

Compile a list of issues that owners have run into.

When the device arrives, make sure that you test it thoroughly. Look for cosmetic flaws and check for the common issues that others have encountered. You need to quickly establish whether you want to keep it, particularly if you’ve bought from a retailer with a limited warranty or returns policy.

If you buy directly from big brand manufacturers like the ones we’ve mentioned, then refurbished electronics can be a great deal. When you buy from third-party retailers or elsewhere, your mileage may vary.

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