Should You Buy Refurbished Electronics?

by Joanne Guidoccio

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When it comes to buying refurbished electronics, you could save a bunch…or you could get scammed. Follow these tips to find reliable refurbished products at significant savings.

While shopping for a new computer system, I encountered the word “refurbished” in many of the product descriptions. It had been nine years since my last computer purchase, so I was definitely in need of an update.

What Exactly Is “Refurbished?”

To my surprise, I discovered that not everyone defines “refurbished” in the same way.

The best scenario: A customer returns a product for a refund without opening the box. While there’s nothing wrong with the item, it can’t be sold as new and must be offered as a refurbished product. Other scenarios include units that have been used at trade shows or for in-store demonstrations, opened boxes with missing parts, and defects in one or more components.

Checking online reviews opened my eyes to several discrepancies that can exist. While visiting the website of a well-known retailer, I discovered a range of critiques:

  • “For the money, a good product.”
  • “Very slow even for basic search engines.”
  • “There was no power cord, keyboard or mouse in the box.”

To be fair, I found a range of responses for the new products I researched.

I also learned about the increasing popularity of refurbished items. According to a recent survey conducted by Liquidity Services, 94 percent of consumers have purchased at least one refurbished product in the past three years. The refurbished market for consumer electronics is estimated to be $10 billion.

If interested in this option, consider the following tips:

Buy From a Reputable Source

I was most impressed by Apple Certified Refurbished products. These devices, among them, refurbished iPhones, iPads, and iPods, have been thoroughly cleaned and outfitted with the same batteries, accessories, cables, and operating systems as new Apple products. And you can save up to 15% off the original price.

Dell Outlet offers excellent deals on their computers and accessories. Products are labeled as new (just canceled orders), certified refurbished (good as new), and scratch and dent (cosmetic issues that don’t affect performance).

Large retailers like Best Buy follow strict refurbishing standards, test products, and use matching parts.

On the other hand, a refurbished product you find in the classifieds or a third-party seller like Amazon could contain mismatched parts that may cause problems. Thousands of online and offline sellers dabble in DIY refurbishing, often replacing batteries and chargers with cheaper, less effective ones.

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Protect Yourself

Before buying, check the return policy and the length of the warranty. Some companies guarantee their refurbished products for a year while others offer just 90 days. Anything less than 30 days should raise a red flag. It may take time to notice poor performance and defects, so it helps to have at least one month to experiment with all its features.

Some manufacturers and retailers can offer extended warranties for their refurbished products. A definite show of confidence!

Most Apple Certified Refurbished products come with a one-year limited warranty and up to 90 days of complimentary technical support. You can extend the coverage by purchasing the AppleCare Protection Plan.

Best Buy refurbished products come with a shortened manufacturer’s warranty that can be extended by purchasing the Best Buy Performance Service Plan. This plan offers the same protection as it does for regularly-priced new items.

When purchasing from third-party vendors, check for U.S. warranties; some refurbished units may not have been initially intended for the American marketplace.

If you use a credit card, you may be able to extend the store warranty if your card covers refurbished products.

Check and Double-Check

Regardless of whether it’s refurbished or not, the product will be new to you. Don’t be too hasty when opening the box. Instead, take time to ensure that all the chargers, cables, cords, manuals, and software have been included in the package.

And finally, check the model number carefully. A change of even one digit could mean that you are looking at a different product. It helps to have a copy of the product description and specifications handy as you complete this process.

While there are some risks to buying refurbished products, there is no reason to overlook this option. You can land an incredible deal from a manufacturer or reputable dealer that works just as well as a new product.

Reviewed May 2023

About the Author

For 31 years, Joanne Guidoccio taught mathematics, computer science, business and career education courses in secondary schools throughout Ontario. Her articles, book reviews, and short stories have been published in newspapers, magazines, and online. She has bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and education and a Career Development Practitioner diploma. Visit her website at

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