This Is the Secret to Buying Electronics for Cheap


I love new electronics, but I don't always let myself buy them. There's simply too much available, and they cost too much money. Lately, I find myself turning more and more to buying my electronics refurbished. Right after the latest iPad was released, I bought the previous version refurbished for about a hundred less than it was currently running, which saved me even more from the new version. Since they had very similar guts, it was a great deal. (See also: Frugal Advice for the Gadget Addicted)

Buying refurbished has gotten a bad rap, based on a relatively few people who had experiences involving shoddy workmanship or the reselling of broken products. However, buying refurbished is a great way to save money, and under certain circumstances can be the best way to get your hands on the technological gadgets you desire.

What Is Refurbished?

A refurbished item generally falls into one of four categories, and what is meant by "refurbished" can vary based on the category and the company doing the refurbishing.


The item can be a floor or demo model, which is then cleaned up and/or repaired before it is resold.

Visible Damage

A gadget might also have some sort of visible damage that does not affect the functioning of the item, like damaged pixels. Depending on the level of damage and the company doing the refurbishing, this may or may not be repaired before resale. For instance, if many pixels are damaged, most companies will replace the screen. If it is only one or two and barely noticeable, sometimes they'll just offer the discount without replacing anything.

Cosmetic Damage

An item sold as refurbished can also have some sort of cosmetic damage, like a dent or a scratch. Some companies choose to repair these flaws, while others simply lower the price and sell it to someone who doesn't care as much about the item's appearance.

Returns and Recalls

Finally, a refurbished item can be one that was recalled. The issue causing the recall may be fixed before the item is resold, although some companies will simply lower the price and notify you that it may have an issue (this last is frowned upon, but it does happen).

Why Buy Refurbished?

The biggest advantage of buying refurbished electronics is that they are cheaper than buying new. Often, you can get a product that is as good as new for significantly less than you would spend for a new product. If you want the newest technology but are willing to wait a few months, refurbished products often appear very quickly. People break screens or other easily damaged parts and buy a new product. These sorts of damaged parts are easily replaced, and the item can be sold as refurbished.

Save Even More With Older Models

In addition, buying refurbished is a superb way to get slightly older technology for an even greater price. If a product is a generation or two older than what is currently being sold as new, it often carries a higher discount when purchased refurbished. Also, sometimes you can purchase a product with an old case but updated insides. This way, you can get a faster processor, more RAM, etc. for a lower price because it LOOKS older than it actually is.

Refurbished Products Are Reliable

Finally, refurbished products often undergo more scrutiny than new products before they are resold. This is especially true when it is the manufacturer doing the refurbishing, because they don't want to release any product that might make their company look bad.

Buying Refurbished

So, how to get your hands on high quality, second-hand electronics and digital gadgets? Start at the source.

Go to the Manufacturer

Many manufacturers refurbish their own products and resell them, or work with another firm licensed to do that for them. Apple is well known for offering high-quality refurbished products, although sometimes you have to do a special search to find them. Dell and Sony are also known for the quality of their refurbished items.

When you buy refurbished electronics from the original company or their refurbisher, they usually use original parts to do the refurbishing, and often require licensing for anyone who does the actual work. This helps many buyers feel more confidence in the product they are purchasing, because original parts and qualified workmanship mean it is more likely to last.

Check the Warranty

Any refurbished product should come with some sort of warranty. The best companies will usually give you six months to a year during which you can get a replacement item free of charge if the first one stops working. This protects you against shoddy workmanship or any deeper problems the item might have beyond what was already repaired.

Many companies also offer extended warranties that you can buy for your refurbished electronics. While these often aren't worth your money, they can give you more reassurance about the life of your product. Also, the fact that they are offered can indicate the quality of the product.

Look for Reviews

If you're not buying straight from the manufacturer, look online for reviews of the company from which you are considering purchasing. While many disgruntled people will choose to leave negative reviews that might make a product look worse than it actually is, if all the reviews you see are negative, you should reconsider your purchase.

CNet often has decent reviews of individual refurbished products, though the best way to find these is to run a search for each product you're looking at. So you might search for "VAIO refurbished reviews" or "refurbished iPod reviews."

Beware of Certain Items

While buying refurbished is a great way to get your hands on certain items, there are other things that you shouldn't buy refurbished. Items that you should think twice about before buying refurbished include the following, though different people have different opinions:

  • Hard Drives. There's no way to make these "like new," so you're almost always getting a product that works like it has been used.
  • TVs. Many people report that their refurbished TVs just don't work. Sometimes it's the screen, other times it's the Wi-Fi, and other times the thing won't even turn on. I haven't found an explanation for this, though some chalk it up to the size of TVs and their lack of good packaging.
  • Printers. If the printer has had ink go through it, it is technically used unless all the guts are replaced. Replacing a part or two doesn't make it "like new."
  • Gaming Systems. There is a decent amount of controversy over this, but I've seen enough people having problems with refurbished gaming systems that I think it's worth thinking twice before you buy. Again, I'm not sure why these don't seem to get the same refurb love that other products get, but you don't want to get burned.
  • Cheap Gadgets. If an item costs $100-$200 new, you won't save much by buying refurbished. Some companies don't even bother to refurbish their more inexpensive items, because it's not worth their while. So buy your Roku box and your Blu-ray player new.

When you're trying to decide if purchasing refurbished is a good idea, think about the ways that the item is used, and whether it can truly be brought back to new condition.

In the end, buying refurbished is a great way to save money and still have the chance to use high quality electronics.

Have you had a negative or positive experience buying refurbished? Tell us about it!

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Guest's picture

I have always preferred shopping around stores for electronics. Knowing about them over the internet has always been my style of choice. But if we look for a saving then I think online shopping comes first in my mind.

Guest's picture

I'm with you on this - I try to find refurbished items whenever I can. But like you said, we have to be aware of certain things. I always check reviews and if it has a warranty. If it has neither then I move on. I've been burned before by getting something without reviews. I rather have somebody else find out first if the product is good or not... I'm okay waiting a few months.