Want to invest in some new tech? A refurbished piece of kit is going to be a lot cheaper than buying new and you’re doing something good for the environment by not letting your new device get recycled too soon. Particularly now, when people are looking for new tech to keep them occupied, sometimes you’re only going to get what you’re looking for by going for a refurb. Retailers can get overwhelmed with demand and there’s just no new stuff to be had, sometimes. 

Even with all the good things, lots of people still recoil at the thought of buying anything “refurbished”. New means you’re the first one to get your hands on something, straight out of the box, whereas anything that’s been refurbished is a gamble, even if the price is more budget-friendly

When a device has been through a refurbishment, it usually means the product has been broken or damaged enough to have been in need of professional repair. But, it could also be as simple as the first buyer returned it to the store. Depending on the seller, the definition of “refurbished” can be different, Cameron Faulkner notes for The Verge, but when you buy previously owned tech in the US you have the protection that it can’t be palmed off as new. The law has teeth, too. In 2019 there was a lawsuit where New York City took T-Mobile to court over a claim that customers were being deceived and getting used phones when they’d ordered new ones. 

There’s still lots of valid questions you’ve probably got about a refurbished device. Who did the refurbishment, the manufacturer, or a third party? Has it been made to look like new, or will it be obvious it’s been used before? Has it been sanitized and cleaned thoroughly? Will the full box and accessories come with the purchase? Is there a warranty and who do you hold accountable for faults?

Lot’s of questions to investigate can get tiresome and it’s easy to see why you’d just give up and go for a new piece of tech. As long as you exercise caution, you can still save money and not get ripped off. Here, we’ve gathered some tips so you can be more confident when you buy a refurb. We can’t give you any guarantees, but you should be safer if you follow these steps, and hopefully be the owner of some cool gadgets with great price tags to boot. 

What to keep your eyes out for on a refurb

When you buy something that’s been refurbished directly from the manufacturer, you’re generally placing a safer bet. The standards for the refurbishment process will be higher, and anything that gets replaced is going to be genuine. There are, though, companies that specifically specialize in completing refurbishments and selling them on and they’re generally good quality products. Keep on your guard and know the right questions to ask and how to get the answers, too. 

Basically, when you’re buying a refurbished product, you  should already know what you’re looking for. It’ll be something that comes naturally when you get into the swing of picking up second-hand tech. Here are some ideas of what you need to be asking: 

  • What’s the condition like? Is it like new or is it visibly used?
  • Will you get the original documentation, manuals, and accessories?
  • What are the terms of the warranty and who supports it?

These points might sound obvious, but for a refurbished phone it’s not always so. You could get a device that comes with visible damage, has a different box, or is only covered by a six-month warranty. None of these things are awful, but you need to know about them ahead of time, it can help you negotiate a cheaper price. Consider exactly what issues you can deal with and what your deal breakers are.

What does “open-box” mean? 

Looking at listings, you’re likely to come across some that are called “open-box”. Different retailers use the term differently, but normally it means the item has been opened by a customer who had bought it and then returned it to the store with everything present and correct. 

It pretty much means there’s been no refurbishment required because it’s assumed that it’s barely been used and still has everything included. You can generally assume that an open-box device will be in good nick but you can also confirm or double-check the details of the product in the listing.

What products shouldn’t you go for a refurbished device?

It’s pretty much down to your own personal choice. You might wince at the thought of refurbished earphones, especially the in-ear kind, and you can’t really be blamed since it’s a pretty intimately used piece of tech. You can usually expect that any gadgets you buy second hand from a retailer will have been thoroughly cleaned before sole. It can still be hard to get past the mindset that something used by others will never be truly clean. 

What’s most important is that you check the warranty when you’re going for a refurbished device, it needs to be good enough to fix it up if it fails. If you’re told by the retailer that you’ll get a clean, properly packaged item, it’s their responsibility to give exactly that.

Where to buy refurbished tech hardware

The big retailers like Best Buy, B&H Photo, and Amazon don’t tend to shout about the refurbished products they sell. The homepages of Nintendo, Google, Sonos, Apple, or Olympus don’t show off all the refurbished kit they sell, and these are just a few of the big brands that do retail these items. Sometimes you have to look on other sites to get what the big brands offer. 

Best Buy’s Outlet is a dedicated site from the company that specializes in refurbished technology. Here’s what Best Buy have to say about its refurb stock:

“Refurbished products have been repaired and restored to like-new condition. All parts and accessories that would have been included with the original product are present, and our thorough inspection process ensures that the product is clean and in working condition.”

You’re also covered by Best Buy’s standard returns policy when you buy anything through this site. When looking at the warranty that you get, the website points out that anything bought on the site is “often include a limited warranty through Best Buy.” Since the warranty doesn’t come as standard, be sure that you check out what you get with everything you consider buying.

When you’re on the normal Best Buy site, you can find what it is you want to buy then head to the bottom of the page and find the “Buying Options” tab, when you click you get to see different, cheaper options to get devices that are similar. Some of the stuff that’s listed there are full refurbs, but lots of the time you’ll be looking at open-box returns. 

Amazon Warehouse is where to go for used and refurbished products, what Amazon calls “renewed” items. If Amazon is your go-to site for tech shopping, you can save some serious money here. Here’s a look at the small print about renewed devices from Amazon:

“[Amazon Renewed products] have been professionally inspected and tested to work and look like new by Amazon-qualified and performance-managed suppliers. The inspection and testing process typically includes a full diagnostic test, replacement of any defective parts, and a thorough cleaning process carried out by the supplier, or by Amazon. The products have no visible cosmetic imperfections when held 12 inches away. The products may be packaged in a generic box and come with the accessories expected for a new product, with exceptions, if any, mentioned on the product detail page.”

There’s renewed items from loads of different tech companies available on the site. You can even find the warehouse listing when you look at the “used” feature on the main product page for whatever you’re wanting to buy off Amazon. If there’s an option of a refurbished or used version, you’ll see it as the first choice. When you check the “condition” section by the price listing, you’ll see disclaimers, if any, about the accessories and general condition of the product. 

You can also check out the Amazon-owned Woot, which has regular deals on top-spec tech. The warranty details are generally clear and honest for everything sold on there, and the condition is always stated, too. Most products on Woot get a 90-day limited warranty and there’s an additional protection plan from SquareTrade that you can add on at the checkout.

The perennial favorite for second-hand items is eBay, and unsurprisingly there’s loads of great deals on refurbished tech on there. You can choose from the official reseller accounts from big names like Nintendo, which are trustworthy when it comes to the quality of your refurbished item. DJI, Dell, and Best Buy also use eBay to shift their refurbished technology and those accounts are generally very trustworthy also. If you’re looking at sellers that you’ve never used before, make sure that you check the ratings and reviews from other buyers, and make sure you ask the questions we gave you before you make a purchase. 

One of the best refurbishment programs on the block comes from Apple. Everything that you buy from them as a refurbished item will come “like new” and you save a minimum of 15 percent off the retail price of a brand new item. You’ll receive your product in a white box and you’ll be given all of the original accessories, too. The one-year warranty is good, and you can also buy AppleCare for the refurbished device. To give you some understanding about the lengths Apple goes to with their refurbs, every single iOS device will get a new battery and outer shell every time. 

Google also offers some of its kit as refurbished which you can get your hands on through the Google Store. According to the company, everything on there is in like-new condition and it’s all been fully repaired and well cleaned. You get a one-year warranty that’s backed by Google directly. 

On the Sonos website, there are lots of audio products that have been refurbished for you to buy, all of which come with a year-long warranty from the company. There’s also a 45-day money-back guarantee that you can take advantage of. Plus, with Sonos, you get a product that’s been cleaned inside and out, fully inspected, and comes with a brand-new box plus original cables and accessories.

From Nintendo, you can normally get refurbished Switch consoles, but it’s not all that easy to find the page that sells them. At the moment they’re all sold out, with demand high due to the pandemic we’re going through. If we were in normal times, you’d be able to get a refurbished unit that would save you some cash compared to something new. The refurbished policy from Nintendo says:

“The Nintendo Switch is now available as an Authentic Nintendo Refurbished set only from Nintendo, and it comes with our standard one year warranty. Although it may have minor cosmetic blemishes, it is guaranteed to be fully functional. We think you will find the standards for Authentic Nintendo Refurbished Products are VERY high.”

Want to know if your favorite brand does refurbished tech? Have a look!

Chances are stacked in your favor that you’re going to find that your favorite tech brand sells refurbished models. Faulkner was looking to upgrade his graphics card for his desktop recently and he discovered that Zotac and EVGA were regularly selling refurbished stock, otherwise known as B-stock, graphics cards. He was even lucky enough to find a lens that had been refurbished for his Olympus camera and on that search, he even discovered that Nikon offers refurbished hardware too. All you need to do is have a look. There are brands that don’t have a dedicated refurb branch, too. If that’s the case with what you’re looking for, you can still check out places like Decluttr, Daily Steals, Backmarket, and other places that do their own refurbishment work. There are sites out there that trade solely on refurbished goods. You’re going to need to hunt around the internet a little further to find these places but you can turn up some real bargains.