The Risks and Benefits of Buying Refurbished Products

by: - Last updated on: February 26th, 2013

Buying refurbished products can be compared, in many ways, with gambling: it all depends on the player to assess the risks, the competitor and most of all, the bonuses brought by the offer-at hand. Whether you are a student looking for a great bonus deal on that gaming laptop you always wanted, or someone who tries to make a living out of it, buying refurbished electronics can bring great benefits.

On the other hand, trying to save a buck without being careful may lead to terrible situations, where the product malfunctions after a short while and repairing will set owners back a substantial sum. Every single aspect about this trade lays into some observational tricks and knowing from where to purchase, and under what conditions.

What does Refurbished mean?

First of all, refurbished is a term that denotes many categories of products, which suffered modifications of several levels. For instance, when somebody makes an order for a TV set and returns the product the very next day, without even touching the case, the vendor will have to re-sell it as refurbished. In most cases, electronics come back with an opened case, but without any physical damage whatsoever, which is also a very fortunate case.

Not all products come nearly untouched. A wide majority of them are used in showrooms and then resold, for a discount. Usually, they come back with scratches, missing accessories or even without some elements. Depending on the nature of the damage, the discount will increase.

The second category addresses products which have suffered different damages during the warranty period or, during production, and the repair process was of such nature, that the gadget could not be sold once more, as new. A basic example which is seen often in laptops is a damaged display, which arrives with 2 or more pixels broken. Vendors take back the product, give a brand new one to the original buyer and resell the repaired unit as refurbished.

The third, and probably most fortunate case addresses overstock units. These products represent seasoned gadgets, which are not the top of their segment or, which manufacturers simply wish to get rid of. When there is not a sufficient request for a certain item, vendors will try to empty stocks by selling the last few units at a discounted price. This category also falls under refurbished, and the selling conditions are great: new.

Benefits of Purchasing Refurbished

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Theoretically, these products are a pain in the back of manufacturers, because it’s obviously harder to sell a product that it’s not new. Therefore, vendors apply a discount, anywhere from 10 to 30 percent, depending on the damage or missing hardware. In some cases, these discounts are more than enough to mentally cover the damage the product has received and to profit, with ease.

The trick is to carefully analyze both the vendor, and the selling product, before making a decision. When the unit presents no risk of breaking down in the near period, or the exterior damage is something that you can overlook, than you’ve got yourself a deal.

In many cases, that minimum discount quoted above will save buyers sum ranging up to $600, especially if they are buying from premium sources, like Apple. But, you can’t always avoid risks

What are the Main Risks of Refurbished Products?


Getting screwed, is the obvious conclusion. While some sources, especially product manufacturers take care of their products and heavily test them before re-branding as refurbished, many retailers just push poorly fixed products and offer them with a small discount. You have no way of knowing how one has treated a laptop before returning it to the vendor, even though this mostly happens after a short period.

Secondly, products that were displayed in showrooms may be in a dreadful condition, considering the fact that hundreds, if not thousands of people manipulated the device before you. Often, these products come with deep scratches, broken parts and missing accessories.

money-hungry2The best example that comes in mind is a simple laptop, which let’s say it was showcased for around a month, or two. Imagine that this laptop has been turned on approximately 14 hours a day and everyone passing by got a chance of testing the keyboard, the touchscreen and mostly, the hinges (I always test those before buying one).

Well, if some buttons of the keyboard are severely pressed (people in showroom are usually not careful with devices), the internal circuit may brake and replacing must be done for the entire unit: which costs around $50-$200, depending on the model.

Secondly, hinges can loosen fairly easy and replacing one of these babies is a pain, especially if it’s an older model. For instance, one of them broke for my older laptop and replacing would set me back around $130, in conditions that my laptop would not sell for $300. Dreadful, I know.

Imagine that all of these damages can occur at a fairly young date after the refurbished product has been bought, and usually this happens right after the warranty period ends. Speaking of warranty, another risk is represented by the short-time frame which vendors vouch for the gear, usually not going further than three months.

Best Practices

best practices

In order to avoid nasty deals, we’ve compiled a small list of best practices for refurbished products:

  • Test before purchase – don’t believe everything said on a vendor’s page and thoroughly test the product, before purchasing. For instance, terms like superficial scratches or opened case may sometimes mean more than just that, so ask the retailer to set you up for a visit and see with your own eyes, what the gadget has missing. Moreover, test the product right when you arrive at home, stores usually having ideal conditions and some elements, like the Wi-Fi antenna for instance, may not work properly outside them.
  • Manufactures first – not all refurbished products are the same. While most of the come from 3rd party vendors, such as Amazon, Best Buy or Target, those sold directly by manufacturers are certainly better. Whenever Apple, Dell or others refurbish a product, this passes through several testing phases to make sure it has been brought back to original standards.
  • Factory refurbished – same as above, factory refurbished items are those repaired by manufacturers themselves and then sent off to 3rd party vendors, for distribution purchases. Before picking a gadget, ask if it’s factory refurbished.
  • Pay attention to warranty – usually, refurbished products are offered a three month warranty period, which sucks. Only a couple stores offer a full-length year period, which shows that the vendor trusts the product to function at least twelve months. So, opt for the stores with longer warranty, even though the discount is not that crazy – it’s a safe bet. Also, see if the vendor is willing to extend the offered warranty and if so, do it.
  • Look out for returns – depending on the store, the return policy may hide some interesting mentions, so take your take time and read it thoroughly. Also, pay attention to the time-frame in which you can return the product, one that usually stretches from 14 days, up to 90. If there’s no return possibility, avoid buying.
  • Accessories and damage – check that the listed product is exactly as described. Usually, vendors enlist the number of scratches or bad pixels, so be sure to audit and identify each one. If something extra is present, ask for a lower price or walk away. The same applies to missing accessories and if the vendor claims the device to be fully-equipped check it.

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  1. stay away from Neat brand document scanners. they are overpriced so thought I. would try a refurbished unit. The unit arrived dead and their customer support is nonexistent. they constantly shift your calls and emails through their system with no intention of taking care of the customer.