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Should You Buy Refurbished Electronics to Save Money?

To be up front, this article is sponsored, however this article is compiled of research I did earlier in 2019 prior to buying my own first refurbished MacBook Pro. I wasn’t aware of the sponsor, iTechshark at the time, or else I would’ve opted to purchase it from them, especially as the reasons (and reader discount!) stated in the review at the bottom. But first...

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TL;DR: Spend Your Time or Spend Your Money

While many “tech enthusiasts are enthusiastic about refurbished electronics,” the general consensus is that you can successfully save anywhere from 10-50% by purchasing A-OK refurbished electronics as long as you are an educated consumer about the electronics in question and the seller. 

What Does Refurbished Mean?

First things first, let’s define refurbished. Or actually not define it as many retailers have their own definitions of exactly what qualifies. (More on this in the section Why Not to Buy Refurbished Electronics below.) 

Consumer Reports shares, “The trick is making sure the product is genuinely refurbished, not simply cleaned up, repackaged, and repriced. And that requires asking some questions before you settle on a deal.”

Samsung uses the term “certified pre-owned” (like a Honda!) Others like Amazon and Walmart have “certified refurbished” options. 

OEM Parts Are Important To Look For

If you’ve taken your car anywhere but the dealership for repairs, chances are you’ve heard this term: OEM Parts. But what does OEM parts mean?

The Balance describes the differences between OEM parts and aftermarket parts:

All types of electronics, like these Apple devices, can be re-used, but not all are refurbished to the same degree of quality. Consumers need to educate themselves.

All types of electronics, like these Apple devices, can be re-used, but not all are refurbished to the same degree of quality. Consumers need to educate themselves.

OEM Parts: OEM is an abbreviation for Original Equipment Manufacturer.

  • Parts are made directly by the manufacturer, not by a third party

  • OEM parts, because they are made by the manufacturer to fit the specifications of a particular make and model, tend to fit perfectly

  • The also cost more money as a result

Aftermarket Parts: Aftermarket parts are manufactured by a company other than your car manufacturer. 

  • They can be produced at a high volume and made to fit the specifications of different types of vehicles, not just a single car make and model

  • They are similar to OEM parts in like, kind, and quality, but they may not be a perfect fit because they are made by a third party

  • They are often also much cheaper

How To Protect Your Refurbished Electronic Purchases

If you’re ready to explore the world of refurbished electronics even deeper, there are some important steps each person should follow to properly do their research.

Take these things into consideration prior to purchasing anything refurbished:

Check the Company’s Reputation

Do you know someone who has been there? Buying your refurbished electronics like laptops and smartphones from a reputable seller cannot be stressed enough. 

Identify Key Technology Partnerships

Are they part of an authorized program? This is a big indicator if they have access to the proper tools and parts to fix your device up to factory code. 

Read the Reviews

Reviews can be a tough way to judge reputation only because they can be manipulated so easily, both organically and through unethical — even illegal — means. 

TIP: Try sites like Wirecutter (you can get lost in here), BBB, and Consumer Reports to get the most unbiased perspectives. 

Protecting refurbished purchases begins with consumers’ knowledge on the seller and the product.

Protecting refurbished purchases begins with consumers’ knowledge on the seller and the product.

Become Familiar With the Average Price and Market Value 

Know the Product

Whenever buying anything refurbished, it’s important to understand what similar products are going for, as well as the latest model. 

When I was evaluating different laptops, I narrowed my selection down to a MacBook Pro. From there, I compared memory and RAM needed to support the different programs with the extra features we needed. I opted for a 2017 instead of a 2018 to save even more money.

Making Deals

Market price comparisons can also be important to know if you are making any requests for a business to purchase an electronic on your behalf. 

If you see a good deal, refurbished products are not an endless supply. This is a time you actually should make that impulse purchase. The difference with knowing the market is instead of it being an impulse choice, you’ll be making an informed choice.

Evaluate Seller Warranty & Return Policy

When trying to decide if refurbished is good or bad, one way to evaluate the purchase is by protection provided by the seller in terms of a warranty or return policy. If purchasing with a credit card (always a good idea for added protection), you can also check with your bank on what coverage terms they offer. 

Understand Privacy and Security Considerations for Refurbished Electronics

Anyone who knows me knows I could be described as paranoid or reading a few too many cybersecurity articles to think of someone having access to my device and installing some type of spyware. 

DEEP THOUGHT: We never actually own our programs or devices; we are just purchasing the opportunity to rent them. They are only as good as the programs they run and information they access, all of which is owned by others. When we pay for a program, we’re never actually owning our own experience, only the chance to give our personal data to a seemingly trustworthy source whose level of credibility is dictated by amount paid and claims paid in size seven font. Things are not always as they seem. While I can’t take credit for this (source coming when I remember it), it gave me more than a moment pondering deeply...

Photo by Rumman Amin on Unsplash used by marketer marisa

Tips for Buying or Selling Refurbished Electronics

You can imagine my delight when I learned if you sell a device at iTechshark, they do a full wipe to factory settings with you in the store to witness it. Advocate for this anywhere you sell or recycle a device (if able to).

When I asked about consumers protecting themselves when purchasing a device, they recommended always doing your own factory reset upon purchasing any reused or refurbished electronic device, just in case. (iTechshark obviously does this, but it’s a good habit for items purchased from other sellers, or in my opinion, everyone, just in case!) 

Score! Refurbished Devices Might Offer More Than You Bargained For

While you want to make sure your device comes with the features you want (AND necessary cables #justsayin), many refurbished items come with extras like better built-in networking features, a premium graphics card, or additional software.

Additionally, while refurbished computers are previously used and returned, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were once broken. In fact, just the opposite. As Staples puts it, “refurbished computers are the cream of the crop, put back to work because they’re running great.” 

“When you head into the refurb world, if they’ve gone through that soak test of being used in a corporate environment for three years or whatever, they've gone through that first bit where the majority of them fail. What you're left with are machines that were built properly to start and that just keep on ticking.”

-- Sean Nicholson, Worldwide manager for Microsoft’s refurbisher programs 

Why Not to Buy Refurbished Electronics

To show both sides, it’s important to note the reasons you might not want to buy refurbished products. Besides the types of refurbished products to avoid, there are some key reasons to avoid buying refurbished electronics: 

  • If you notice any physical damage or missing pieces, take your product back immediately.

  • If you had your heart set on a specific style, size, color, or customized set-up, you might find options limited.

  • Similarly, refurbished models are usually a bit older. (iTechshark confirmed their new iPhones usually fly off the shelves.)

That said, if you’re open to a little flexibility, you can save a lot of money… and oh yeah, the environmental impact of reusing electronics… 

BONUS! See Time’s article The World Has an E-Waste Problem

Photo by Ali Abdul Rahman on Unsplash for marketer marisa lather

Right to Repair in Missouri

When I brought up the sensitive topic on Right to Repair, Shane, the iTechshark Technology Specialist on-site, was well-versed and demonstrated a fair perspective by identifying with both sides. 

For those who are not familiar, many consumer goods from John Deere to iPhones are locked into manufacturer warranties that are voided if they seek non-parent-company support, like repairing a tractor or an iPhone screen, which is one of iTechshark’s services. Because those companies want consumers coming to them for [costly] repairs, they are not publicly offering the tools or knowledge needed to service their products properly. 

Nathan Proctor from Public Interest Group confirmed in an email on August 26, 2019, that in Missouri “now the bills are inactive, having failed to pass this year, and need to be refiled next year.“ This means, at the time of publication, “there is no access to parts and OEM service information, diagnostic software and firmware. Consumers can still try to fix anything, but there are all sorts of barriers that make it difficult or impossible.”

“I see it from both sides. While we use OEM parts, there are other stores that don’t. Installing those on your device can ruin it,” explains iTechshark’s Technology Specialist, Shane Bennett

Final Thoughts on My ITechshark Experience

Personally, when I think of the long-term usage I’d prefer to give my devices -- especially a high-use device like a phone or computer — I don’t want to gamble. It’s OEM only IMHO. ABC123 :)

In addition to my research, before recommending anything to readers, I wanted to get the full experience by actually visiting a store. If you’d like to try it out yourself, here is a link to save 10% on any product or repair service!

I chose the Brentwood store next to Dierbergs and noted the convenient location. There were people coming in and out and the store was clean. While no management was present to speak with (they have four St. Louis-area stores as of September 2019), I found the on-site staff supportive and able to answer my questions with ease. 

I would try iTechshark for my next refurbished MacbookPro or iPhone purchase because they are local to St. Louis, they give back to the St. Louis-area community (like computer giveaways to teachers), and you can save money. Based on their reviews, the fact they are authorized, use OEM parts, and that they offer their own warranty, I think that is more competitive and provides a closer degree of separation than the refurbished Amazon purchase I made prior to knowing about this local gem. 

Have you ever bought refurbished? Let me know on Twitter or Instagram at @MarketerMarisa!

Marisa Lather