Is refurbished tech really good as new?

Is refurbished tech really good as new?
Credit: Apple

If you’ve ever shopped online for electronics, you’ve likely seen companies offering “refurbished” models of your intended items, including phones, TVs, computers, and network devices. These items are usually sold at a significant discount when compared to a new product, but the refurbishers frequently imply that the refurbished device is as good as new.

So what is refurbishing really? And are refurbished goods really as good as new?

The refurbishing process

There are a few different ways refurbishing can work. For starters, a refurbishing company could buy up used and/or unwanted electronics from businesses and individuals. Then, they could restore those devices to their factory default settings, inspect them, make any repairs necessary to fix the problem, and then resell them back to the public. Some companies accept electronics generally, while others specialize in a family of products. For example, BrightStar Systems specializes in routers and switches, while iFixit specializes in iPhones.

But refurbishing can also happen when a customer returns an item to a manufacturer or retail store; they’re usually given a replacement item or refund immediately, and the returned item (which may or may not be defective) is then labeled as “refurbished.” There’s no real industry standard for what “refurbished” actually means, so it could mean anything from a product with its entire inside portion stripped and replaced to a product whose box was slightly damaged in shipping.

Factors to consider

So will this process make the item truly as “good as new”? It’s hard to say, but there are some important variables you should consider:

  • The type of product. The refurbishing process can be applied to almost any electronic device, but some are more valuable than others when being restored to factory conditions. This is because some devices are more sensitive to small changes, and others are prone to experiencing simple problems with simple fixes—which makes it easy to restore a device to “like new” condition. For example, it’s not a good idea to buy refurbished hard drives (for the most part); all hard drives have a finite lifespan, with or without a restorative process involved, so if yours has been heavily used, it might be more likely to fail than a new version. Printers are also difficult to fully restore to new working condition, as toner has already made its way through the internal system (in most cases).
  • The company offering refurbishing. You’ll also want to look at the company (or individual) offering the refurbished product. As you might expect, a company with a strong reputation for customer service and high standards for their own products will likely invest more time and energy in making sure all their refurbished products work as expected. Household brand names are a pretty safe bet here, as are companies that specialize in refurbishing. Just be careful if you end up buying from an individual—you can never be sure what their personal definition of “refurbished” is.
  • The process used and specific circumstances. Many companies will explicitly state how the product was damaged (if it was damaged) and under what circumstances the device was restored. For example, if the only real damage is a broken box, with the item being checked and cleared for any damage, that’s a non-intensive restoration process, and you’re probably safe making the purchase. If the item seems like it’s been used and abused for a period of months to years, with heavy investment in restoring it back to regular working condition, it might be best to avoid that specific item.
  • Guarantees and warranties. Finally, have a look at any guarantees or warranties offered by the refurbisher. This may not be able to tell you directly if the product is as good as new, but it will help inform your purchasing decision. If the device is guaranteed to last for two years or longer, you can probably rest easy knowing your device is covered. If no guarantee is explicitly offered, you’ll be taking a slightly bigger risk.

The shortcut: reviews

The more research you do, the better decisions you’ll be able to make with your refurbished electronics. However, if you’re in a rush, or if you’ve found substantial information but can’t make up your mind, there’s one quick place you can look to determine how effective a refurbisher truly is: online reviews. Take a look at online reviews of customers who have bought this company’s refurbished products in the past, and see how long they tend to last (and how satisfied the customers are). Positive reviews, especially when combined with some kind of company guarantee, are your best sign that this is a reliable purchase.

So are refurbished products really as good as new? The short answer is “sometimes.” You’ll need to dig a little deeper to tell for sure, but it’s a definite possibility.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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