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What are Refurbished Products?

Although the word “refurbished” may conjure up not-so-reassuring images of retailers and manufacturers resurrecting defective products, lots of items fall under the “refurbished” umbrella. Sometimes a customer returns a product for a refund without even opening the box or using the item at all. There’s nothing wrong with it, but the item can’t be sold as new and has to be offered as a refurbished product—often at a deep discount (around 15 to 30 percent).

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. But what does refurbished mean? We’ll get to that in a moment.

Other types of reasons products get labeled refurbished include:

Shipping or exterior damage: Minor scratches or dents to the product during shipment would force a retailer to return it to the manufacturer and put on the refurbish checkout lane.

Demo units: Demonstration units used at trade shows, retail stores, or product reviewers may be repackaged as refurbished items.

Opened box: Opened box can mean anything. Technically, there should be no issue and the item is “like new,” but the box was simply opened

Production Defects: If a defect in one part is found, manufacturers might repair the returned defective units and sell them or send them to retailers as refurbished units.

The issue is that in most cases, you don’t know why a product has been labeled refurbished. If a customer just changed his or her mind and returned it, then the item is basically new and—sweet—you’ve saved yourself a lot of dough. But with things like “opened box” items, a returns department clerk could have just slapped that label on a product someone brought back because it wasn’t working or had some major defect. And then you’re screwed if you buy it.

What to Look for When Buying Refurbished Electronics

“Factory certified” refurbished products. Not all refurbs are the same. Third-party refurbished products are available but go for the factory-refurbished electronics, which come with the manufacturer warranty and have been carefully tested and brought to the original standards.

Warranty. Many retailers and manufacturers offer 90-day warrantees on refurbs. As mentioned above, for peace of mind you’re better off looking for the full (e.g., one-year) warranty if you can find it. Unfortunately, credit cards are not likely to extend the warranty on refurbished products, but ask the retailer if you can get an extended warranty on the item—not that you should buy it, per se, but if the retailer does offer an extended warranty, it’s a good sign of faith in that product.

Return policy. A liberal return policy means if you can catch any issues early (do some stress testing if possible) or are simply not happy with the product you’re in luck. Target allows returns within 90 days of purchase, Amazon and Sony have refund refurbs within 30 days, and Apple has a 14-day refund policy. Make sure there’s at least some return policy.

Accessories and Other Details. Check that all the chargers, cables, cords, manuals, software, drivers, and whatever else comes with your product are included in the package. Also, check the complete description and specs list for your product and make sure it is the item you are expecting (a simple change in model numbers, for example, might mean you’re looking at a different product).

“Refurbished” isn’t just another word for “used,” but the two terms are related. Used goods, also known as secondhand or pre-owned goods, are products that another person has bought, used, and sold. Refurbished goods, also known as reconditioned or remanufactured goods, are products that another person has bought and then, for some reason, decided to return. Generally, prior to resale, an item is checked by the retailer or manufacturer for functionality, and minor adjustments or fixes may be made – perhaps it is given fresh packaging, or a new battery is placed in the product. In general, technology experts are enthusiastic about refurbished electronics. They say that as long as you buy from a reputable source, you can get a product that works just like new for a fraction of the cost.

However, they also stress that it’s important to do your homework first. The more you can learn about both the product itself and the seller, the better your chances are of avoiding an unpleasant surprise when your package arrives.

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