You might have noticed that we’re all for buying a refurbished iPhone, both because opting for a refurbished iPhone instead of a new one can save you a lot of money and can reduce the environmental impact of that brand-new iOS device. Budget- and environmentally-conscious, if you do your research and shop at a reputable source, there are plenty of other refurbished gadgets that you shouldn’t be afraid to buy. As Brian X. Chen reports for The New York Times, used electronics sold by reputable brands “can often be as good as buying new.”
Chen explains that while a used product might lack the original packaging, or may come with a few scuffs on it, “the quality of many of the devices remains high and people who buy the gadgets do the world a favor by putting more use into the energy, metals, plastics and human labor invested in creating the product.” Shoppers who buy used gadgets also find themselves a part of the trend toward anti-consumerism, which Chen reports “includes maintaining electronics to get more use out of them for a longer period, rather than discarding and constantly upgrading to the latest products.”
While there aren’t any firm numbers on how many Americans opt for preowned gadgets instead of brand-new ones, retailers like Amazon are reporting that more customers are shopping for used products. But for all of the customers who are enthusiastic about buying a refurbished laptop or a preowned smartphone, there are plenty of others who don’t trust devices that have been used by someone else.
So Chen compared the preowned products at three retailers — Amazon, GameStop, and Gazelle — to see whether the stigma associated with preowned or refurbished gadgets is warranted. His conclusion? “You can buy pre-owned products from reputable brands with as much confidence as you might buy a used car from a certified dealer.”
Electronics sold via Amazon’s Warehouse Deals program, for instance, primarily come from customers who opened the packaging or used the goods and then returned them to Amazon, at which point each item is checked by hand for its physical and functional condition. Repairs are made if necessary, and items are assigned a grade that explain their condition to shoppers. And Gazelle, which offers cash for preowned smartphones, Macs, and iPads, puts items through 30-point inspection process. Smartphone batteries need to have at least 80% of their capacity remaining, or else they are replaced with new batteries. Chen notes that product testing by companies like GameStop can get “intense,” with test units (which aren’t sold to consumers) undergoing thousands of hours of stress tests to see if repairs are long-lasting.
The tradeoffs that Chen mentions for buying used games from GameStop are similar to those you’ll have to consider if you buy a gadget preowned, too: you’ll have to wait to buy a new game or gadget used (which means you’ll necessarily have to be a late adopter). Additionally, the product will likely lack its original packaging, and you might see some cosmetic wear that the product accumulated during its previous life.
But your experience with the game, or gadget, will be the same as if you’d bought it new. And in the event that something goes wrong, both Amazon and GameStop give customers the same 30-day period to return a used product as they’d have with a new product. And Gazelle offers both a free 30-day warranty as well as the option to buy an extended warranty.
Even if you’ve never considered purchasing a refurbished or preowned device before, it’s a good idea to research your options if you’re in the market for a new phone or computer. Chen notes that you may want to be wary of buying used televisions or computer monitors, since “a lot more can go wrong with larger screens than with computer equipment.” And because fitness trackers and smartwatches are a relatively new category of electronics, the jury is still out on whether or not it’s wise to purchase them used.
When you’re shopping for a refurbished gadget, it’s important to check out the return policy and buy from sources that you trust. If a store guarantees its inspection process or offers a long warranty period, even better. Compare your options on return policies, warranty periods, and the inspection process that a device goes through on its way to you.