Inflation? Shortages? No problem! You can get what you want at prices you’ll like if you shop for refurbished items.
Refurbs are open-box and slightly used products — electronic devices, home appliances and a lot more — that you can find at dozens of major retail websites. And with the holiday season’s returns filling up warehouses, right now is a great time to shop.
You can save as much as 70 percent by buying refurbished, says Simo Elalj, founder of RefurbMe, a clearinghouse for refurbished Apple products. In December and January price checks, I found savings amounting to hundreds of dollars.
Bargains like those make refurbs increasingly popular. In a 2021 Wakefield Research survey, 62 percent of respondents said they were considering buying refurbished electronics, and 84 percent said they were open to receiving refurbished gifts.
Although there are no universal industry standards, sellers typically list the product elements they inspect to ensure an item is in working order and has all its accessories.
You probably won’t find many of the latest models on the refurb market; you may have to settle for a next-to-newest, similar version. You also risk ending up with junky castoffs. But if you’re careful, it’s easy to get a great deal by following these rules.
1. Buy from the right seller
Start by browsing sites of manufacturers such as Apple, Dyson and Samsung. (Tip: Search for the company name and “refurb.”) Widen your search to retailers like Amazon (look for “Amazon Renewed” deals), Best Buy, Target and Walmart. Be careful about third-party vendors on these sites: Check return policies and look for lots of positive feedback on sales of the kind of refurbed product you’re buying. Also, says Elalj, be aware that products shipped from China could be a hassle to return. Check out refurb specialists like Backmarket.com, Gazelle.com and Elalj’s Refurb.me. And think twice about buying anything from a seller who doesn’t provide a warranty of at least one year.
2. Study item descriptions
Many sites provide helpful details, and some also classify refurbs, making it easy to shop. EBay’s Refurbish Program for certain sellers, for example, has four categories, ranging from “certified refurbished” (deemed like new by the manufacturer, with a two-year warranty) to “good” (moderate wear, with a one-year warranty).
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3. Favor certified
The premium you’ll likely pay for a “certified” refurb is worth it, especially if you’re concerned about battery life and appearance. Certifications usually promise that batteries have been replaced if their full charge is below 80 percent of their original capacity, Elalj says. But he advises steering clear of refurbed portable battery chargers — printers, too, partly because their ink is a bigger long-term expense than the hardware.
4. Shop around!
Refurb prices are all over the map, so it pays to spend time comparing prices. Also, you might find that with some products, the money you’ll save on a refurb isn’t worthwhile after all.
Some recent bargains for repackaged products:
Apple iPad Pro at Apple.com
- New: $1,099 for 11-inch iPad Pro Wi-Fi with 512GB of memory
- Refurbished: $769
- Savings: $330 (30 percent off!)
Dyson Air Purifying Fan at Dyson.com
- New: $570 for Dyson Purifier Cool TP07
- Refurbished: $400 for Dyson Pure Cool TP04
- Savings: $170 (30 percent off!)
Security Camera Kit at Amazon.com
- New: $466 for Arlo Pro 4 Spotlight Camera 3-pack
- Refurbished: $350
- Savings: $116 (25 percent off!)
Lisa Lee Freeman, a consumer and shopping expert, was founder and editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine from Consumer Reports.