There’s always a new laptop on the market, a new smartphone, a new PC … and the price tags are always looking a lot steeper than you’d probably prefer.
Fortunately, there are other alternatives. With the global consumer electronics market revenue set to hit $1.135 billion by 2026, the demand for refurbished tech is soaring.
What is refurbished tech, exactly, and how can you buy it? Here’s your guide:
This is the question for which there is no one, exact answer. Refurbished tech is not a regulated term, so manufacturers, retailers, and other sellers are generally free to identify their products as “refurbished,” “reused,” or with similar nomenclature, as they wish.
Generally speaking, a refurbished product is one that’s been repaired, cleaned, tested, and deemed to be in good, working order. While it may have minor cosmetic imperfections, it should function relatively like new.
But without a regulated label, it can be hard to know exactly what you’re getting. For example, refurbished tech can be a customer return, sent back just days after it was originally purchased; a new product whose package was damaged in storage; or a second-hand or a repaired device.
With such uncertainties in the refurbished tech world, it’s easy for a lot of customers to go into it feeling nervous.
If you’re interested in shopping for a refurb PC or a refurb phone, don’t worry—there are plenty of opportunities for you to safely buy your refurb tech.
Most importantly, you need to carefully consider your seller. Every manufacturer and store is different, so make sure you read the fine print before buying refurbished tech. It’s also a good idea to only shop from sellers who have established years in the business and a decent number of positive reviews.
So, should you buy refurb tech? If you’re looking for a way to get a discounted deal on big-ticket tech items like laptops, PCs, or smartphones, then buying refurb can be a great option.
As you start shopping for your refurbished tech, make sure you keep in mind the following:
First, you need to understand the difference between refurbished and open-box.
An open-box return is an item that was purchased and opened but then returned before it was ever used. This may happen when the customer decides they simply don’t want the device anymore. Open-box returns also happen when the device is returned because the packaging was damaged.
Refurbished devices, on the other hand, are likely to be devices that have already been used by a customer or have undergone some kind of repair. These may also be called pre-owned or reconditioned.
If you’re shopping for “like-new” tech, make sure you read the fine print to see exactly what you’re getting.
It’s also important to take a look at who did the refurbishing. This is most often performed either by the original manufacturer or a third-party seller.
Best practice suggests that sticking with the original company is always your best move. This is the most sure-fire way to ensure you’ll get the right packaging and all the right parts with your refurbished device. To that end, keep your eye out for devices with a “factory certified” label.
Charging packs, extra cables, maybe even headphones—a lot of tech these days come shipped with several accessories. When you shop for refurbished tech, you want to make sure you’re getting all of these goodies, too (though headphones may be one accessory that sellers will drop for sanitary reasons).
The same also applies for any manuals or direction booklets, although these are quickly becoming forgotten relics as most people just search for this information online nowadays.
This is probably the most important thing you need to consider when shopping for a refurbished device, whether you’re going after a smartphone, tablet, computer, or even a gaming console.
Why? Once the device changes hands or enough time lapses, the original warranty will likely no longer be valid.
If you’re buying directly from the original manufacturer, then there will usually be a new warranty. If you’re buying from a third-party seller, ask them directly about any warranties. You don’t want to miss this—without a warranty, any savings you make from buying refurb could be lost later if you need to pay out-of-pocket for repairs.
Like the warranty, this is also something you want to pay special attention to. And don’t be fooled—even refurbished devices should come with a good return policy.
At a minimum, the return policy should be one month since it can take time to identify any problems. At all costs, just avoid buying refurb tech that’s marked as final sale.
You already know that you can search for refurbished tech straight from the manufacturer or via a third-party seller. If you’re not sure where to begin in the hunt for the best refurbished devices, here are few top sellers:
Refurbished tech sold through Amazon is branded as “Renewed.” These devices usually come from third-party sellers and can be refurbished, pre-owned, or even open-box returns … unfortunately, it can be hard to know what you’re getting.
While Amazon has guidelines that sellers need to adhere to gain the “Renewed” label, many criticize the term for being ambiguous.
Still, Amazon is known for its great customer service; all devices come with a 90-day Amazon Renewed Guarantee.
Although it’s a third-party seller, Best Buy also has a good reputation for selling refurbished devices.
Most of its refurb tech is repaired in house with Best Buy’s own Geek Squad team. Plus, all Geek Squad-refurbished tech is backed by Best Buy’s return policy and warranty. Note, though, that the warranty of refurbished tech is usually shorter than that of new products.
Getting your hands on new tech doesn’t have to be expensive. There’s plenty of good-quality refurbished tech out there—you just need to know where to find it.
About Dan VanPatten: Dan is a full-time technology writer with interests in gaming, gadgetry, and all things PC tech related. He writes about a variety of topics including technology news, product reviews, and software. His experience stems from years of experience writing & producing content for technology newsletters & publications.