Refurbished FAQ: Sound Strategies for Buying Refurbished Goods

I have vivid memories of buying a refurbished JVC boom box in the late 1980s, and that faithful stereo served me for a decade without a hitch. What's more, it sounded better than any boom box I've owned since.

Make no mistake. Buying refurbished saves you cash — usually at least 15%, and often much more — while keeping tons of goods out of our nation's landfills. That said, you must know what you're doing before you venture into this bargain terrain.

What does "refurbished" mean anyway?

Refurbished implies that an item has been used in some fashion and reconditioned, and on dealnews, these are the only items that we call refurbished. However, sometimes a store might simply be offering a used item that's received questionable levels of repair. Whenever possible, dealnews will use the most explicit description possible; if the item was never used but isn't "new" because it's open box, scratch and dent, etc., we label it as such. Moreover, if it wasn't reconditioned in some way, we simply deem it "used." (See also: 5 Home and Family Items to Avoid Buying Used)

Do: Stores will use the names they see fit. So when you can, get specific information. An item sold in a scratch and dent sale, for example, suggests cosmetic damage.

Don't: Dismiss a product just because you have no idea why it's refurbished. Many other pieces of information — including the available warranty — will tell you how to proceed.

How crucial is the warranty on a refurbished item?

It's very crucial. A refurbished item without a warranty could work just as well as one without, but should something go amiss, you'll have no company backing the product to offer support. So if you're looking for something as "good as new," you might want coverage that is too.

Do: Look for a full manufacturer's warranty. That means the maker of the product stands behind the item just as they would a new product. Third-party warranties are also beneficial, but keep in mind that if the warranty company severs its relationship with the product, or goes under, you'll have problems getting service or repairs. Also, third-party warranty services inspire a disproportionate number of consumer complaints, according to

Don't: Assume all refurbished items come with a warranty. Sometimes a product listing will have no warranty information listed. Occasionally, a vendor is just bad at providing warranty information, but frequently, the item just doesn't come with one. Some stores, like Sony Store, have a blanket warranty policy for refurbished items, and it won't appear on every page. For sites that sell products from multiple manufacturers, it's best to call customer service to confirm.

What's the best way to reduce the odds of getting burned on a refurbished product?

Seek out companies with great reputations for products and customer service — or their items sold by retailers with equally sterling reps. Avoiding any equipment problems at all costs, and across all purchases, is a lofty goal at best. So aim to select a manufacturer that will help you get issues resolved without a hassle.

Do: Pick companies and products that rate high among users for quality and customer satisfaction. Pay special attention to those that excel at customer service. A quick Google search will return useful customer reviews.

Don't: Buy products that rate sub-par even in new condition. And when you hear an overwhelming number of stories about bad customer service, especially from the retailer, just say no.

Are there some items to always/never buy refurbished?

Strictly speaking, no — although some are easier to inspect than others. It's easier for most people to assess the quality of a refurbished bicycle, for example, than the laser on a CD player. Also consider technological advantage versus the reduced price. When the iPhone 4 came out, the cost of the refurbished iPhone 3G became even more appealing. But would you be happy with the old model once you learn about all the fancy things the new one can do?

Do: Consider the "classics." Products that capture the imagination and hearts of consumers are likely to make great bets as refurbished goods.

Don't: Pass up the opportunity to inspect a refurbished product, when possible. Also, ask lots of questions. The answers will give you more ammunition for making a smart decision.

What if I buy a refurbished product and there's a problem?

Here's where your skills as a cool-headed bargain hunter come in. It's easy to blame the problem on its refurbished state, but remember — the malfunction may be totally unrelated to the "refurbished" label. Don't rush to judgment, and exhaust the precautions you should have in place for an event like this. Use your warranty. Visit the store's retail operation and look into an exchange or a refund.

Do: Work calmly towards a solution — but if you find yourself at an impasse, remember your options as a consumer. You have rating websites such as Yelp and the Better Business Bureau as resources. No reputable retailer or manufacturer wants a blow to their whole reputation based on mistreating you.

Don't: Make threats or engage in name-calling. In the rare instance that you're treated unfairly, remember the old saying about two wrongs not making a right. There's a way to fight for your consumer rights, yet not pick a fight. The last thing a good company wants to hear is that you're taking your business elsewhere from now on. Use the power of your purse, and not your curse.

This post is by Dealnews.

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Meg Favreau's picture

I love my refurbished iPod -- that's one piece of technology where it just seems silly to me to buy new.

Does anybody else have experiences (good or bad) with buying refurbished?

Guest's picture

We bought our surround sound and a DSLR camera refurbished. We have had the surround sound for over a year and its awesome, never had a problem with it. We saved a ton of money too. We have had the camera 6 months and haven't had a problem with it either

Guest's picture

I bought a re-furbished Garmin car navigation unit, and it was not reliable. It lasted 3 days prior to no longer functioning. The retailer did accept it back, however, I did have to pay for return shipping.

I bought a Verizon Motorolla Droid X refurbished, and I had much trouble with the phone. Verizon swapped out the phone, and the 2nd Droid X, also refurbished, is a little glitchy. I am unsure if this is due to the refurbished condition, or the phone itself.

Guest's picture

Our household currently has 6 refurb Sansa players and 2 refurb Nook Colors. All were in great shape and continue to work perfectly. Saved about $400 vs new. All had free shipping to boot.