The Complete Guide to Buying Refurbished Electronics

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How to buy refurbished phones and other devices from Apple, Amazon, Walmart, and more.

Seeing the prices of brand-new gadgets like laptops, iPhones, headphones, and PlayStations (if you manage to even find one…) it’s easy to wonder if they’re really worth the money.

Not only will prices drop a few short months after their release, but it won’t be long before the new generation is out and your device starts to show troubling signs of obsolescence.

And with each new cycle, yet more environmentally damaging electronic waste is produced. The global amount of e-waste has been rising steadily [1] since 2010, with a shocking 53.6 million metric tons produced in 2019 alone.

Fortunately, there has been rising momentum in the purchase of refurbished, renewed, and pre-owned electronics as a solution to those problems. You get perfectly functional tech at a significantly cheaper price point, and as a result reduce your e-waste at the same time.

Refurbished Electronics - Rugged Ratings

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Even tech behemoths like Apple and Amazon have started programs to help people buy refurbished goods – but is it ok to buy refurbished? How do you know if the product is in good working order, without damage or defects? And what should you look for when buying refurbished goods?

As purveyors of great value products, we’ve put together a complete how-to guide on buying refurbished goods.

We’ll explain the differences between terms like refurbished, renewed, and recertified, and offer recommendations of the best places to buy refurbed goods that work and look brand new – but are significantly cheaper. (If you’re looking for good deals also check our offers, deals, and discounts section).

Refurbished goods definitions you need to know

It may not seem like it because they sound so similar, but there are meaningful differences between terms like ‘refurbished’, ‘renewed’, and ‘recertified’ that you need to know to ensure the product you’re buying actually works.

Also, depending on your preferences, you’ll also want to know whether the item is in good physical condition – whether it has superficial scratches, dents, or is discolored.

It may surprise you to know that you can indeed get refurbished goods at a great price that are virtually identical to their brand-new counterparts, with no visible damage and in perfect working order.

But there is still no legally accepted definition for some of these terms, so different manufacturers might have different standards for what is truly ‘ready’ for resale. Arm yourself with knowledge of the below terms before hunting for your refurbished tech:

Definitions
  • Refurbished – This is where returned goods are repaired by the manufacturer, verified to be in good working order and without defects, then made available for sale at discounted prices. Apple Certified Refurbished is an example, selling Apple gadgets that have been repaired but may have signs of superficial wear.
  • Recertified – In almost all cases, recertified is used interchangeably with ‘refurbished’, and thus means the same thing. 
  • Renewed – This is where returned goods are inspected and tested to both work and look ‘like new’. Amazon Renewed is an example, offering a wide range of pre-owned goods that work and have “no visible signs of cosmetic imperfections when held 12 inches away”.
  • Open box – This is where products have been opened but remain largely unused, returned to the manufacturer for trivial reasons like it being an unwanted gift, the wrong colour, or in some cases a store floor-model. The manufacturer performs a full diagnostic test to verify that its working and it goes up for resale.
  • Like new – This describes when a product has been refurbished to a standard where it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between the refurbished good and a brand-new version. Like new products should not only be in perfect working order, but also have no signs of cosmetic wear and come with all the accessories packaged in the original product.
  • As is – This is when goods are sold in a state described on the product listing and imagery, and implies there will be no warranty, guarantee, or buyer protection. It removes the seller’s liability in the case of a defect, so avoid at all costs.

What to look for when buying refurbished goods

Now you know what everyone’s talking about when describing various pre-loved goods, you can go out there and start hunting for deals and bargains.

But before you do though, it’s a good idea to have a list of criteria to refer to when evaluating used goods – especially if they’re electronics, as they have a higher potential for failure.

Look out for the following to make sure you don’t end up with a $500 hunk of plastic instead of a working PlayStation 5.

Product source

A great first question to ask is – where is the refurbished product coming from? It’s a good rule of thumb to never buy used electronics that haven’t been refurbished by the original manufacturer.

This is because only they will have access to genuine, original parts that need replacing, and almost definitely have higher and more accurate standards for the end-state of the refurb.


Warranties/guarantees

It’s not quite the same as buying new, but many companies offer various reassurances when you purchase a pre-owned device to give you trust in the quality of the refurb, usually referred to as a ‘certified refurbished product’. They’re typically much more limited than brand new product warranties, but better than buying purely second-hand.

Apple offers a one-year limited warranty with the purchase of all refurbished Apple products, with the option to extend coverage by purchasing AppleCare.

Amazon Renewed products come with a 90-day satisfaction guarantee [2] where you can return refurbished goods for a full refund or replacement. Some Amazon Renewed Premium products come with a limited one-year warranty.


Hygiene-friendly products

I guess this one’s down to personal preference, but not everyone will be down to buy a used product that has close contact with the previous user’s skin.

Think in-ear headphones, massage therapy guns, etc. While most refurbs include a professional clean or exterior part replacement, that may not always be the case be and you probably don’t want to take the risk!

Where can you buy refurbished goods?

That’s the technical part over with, now it’s time to find the goods.

As we mentioned, there are many places to go for high-quality, affordable refurbished electronics. To make your search a little easier, we’ve come up with a list of the best places, organized by product category.

Scroll to whatever refurnished device you’re looking for to see the best places on the internet to find them, and at what kind of prices.

Refurbished phone deals

Refurbished Mobile Phones - Rugged Ratings

iPhone – Apple Refurbished iPhones should be your only destination for pre-own iPhones that are guaranteed to work. As they state on the Refurbished about page, refurbished iPhones come with a brand-new battery and outer shell, so they will look and perform like new. You can expect up to 15% savings on refurbished iPhones compared to buying new.

Google Pixel ­– Head to this page on the Google store for refurbished Google Pixel deals. Each one comes with a one-year hardware warranty. They only hold older Pixels and the prices aren’t significantly lower, but acceptable for certified refurbished.

Samsung Galaxy – You can get some incredible deals on the Samsung Certified Pre-owned store. They hold S10 and Note10+ models, and offer between $75 and $150 savings, all with a one-year warranty.

Other models – Amazon Renewed has an ok smartphone selection, mostly including older models with the same guarantees and warranty promised under the Amazon Renewed policy.


Refurbished laptop and computer deals

Refurbished Laptops - Rugged Ratings

Macs – For a refurbished MacBook, Mac Mini, or iMac, keep your search to the Apple Refurbished store for guaranteed quality and their one-year warranty.

Other models – Check out the computer section of Amazon Renewed for deals on HP, Dell, Acer, and Lenovo laptops.

Dell – If you’re more of a Dell person, you can shop basically their entire range of laptops and desktop computers on their refurbished and overstocked page. They generously offer same-as-new warranties for all their refurbished goods.


Refurbished TV deals

Refurbished TVs - Rugged Ratings

Walmart – There are some pretty tempting deals on Walmart’s refurbished store, where you can get anything from 65” 4k TVs to small desktop monitors at reasonable prices. All comes with a 90-day satisfaction guarantee, but watch out for models that are sold and shipped by other providers on the store, you may not get the same standard of refurb.

Best Buy – The refurbished and clearance store at Best Buy stocks a lot more than just TVs, but they have a wide range of television sets to choose from at up to 40% discounts. Keep a close eye on the descriptions – certified refurbs are mixed with open box and clearance items, so make sure you know what you’re getting before making a purchase.


Refurbished games console deals

Refurbished Game Consoles - Rugged Ratings

Nintendo – You can get the popular Nintendo Switch console at $100+ dollar discounts on their official refurb store.

Gaming laptops – eBay has launched a refurbishment program (US only) that houses Razer gaming laptops, where each one comes with a fantastic two-year warranty. It uses the same bidding structure as other eBay products too, so deals can be had.


Other refurbished tech

Backmarket – It’s a little riskier than the other options so far, but if you’re looking for seriously steep discounts, Backmarket could be the place for you. It holds everything from smartphones to cameras, headphones to vintage gaming consoles (sorry, no PS5) with a 30-day satisfaction guarantee and one-year warranty on all products.

How do you know if your refurbished item will even work?

There’s a reason that refurb companies are pretty hot on satisfaction guarantees and warranties.

It’s totally possible that your new (to you) refurbished device may not work as described or has an unsightly scratch somewhere. If that’s the case you’ll know as soon as it comes out of the box and you can send it back for a return or refund.

But make sure to note the length of time you get for refunds and swaps and run a full diagnostic test yourself to see if everything’s in order. Try all the functions and features of your device on day one so you can spot any defects quickly rather than after your warranty window.

Good luck out there, and be sure to stay tuned for more buying guides, and our usual programming of testing and reviewing the best, most durable tech and gear on the market.

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