How to Shop Refurbished for the Holidays
Shop Refurbished

Buying new isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s plenty of great stuff out there that you can buy refurbished. Just make sure that you follow these tips.

As the holidays approach, ’tis the season to sniff out deals on everything – especially deals on brand new electronics. But here’s a secret even Santa won’t tell you: if you’ve got your eye on the season’s glitziest new gadget, but don’t have the budget to buy it brand new, it might actually pay to dive headlong into the mysterious world of refurbished electronics.

Now, you shouldn’t go rushing in unprepared, or you’re likely to walk away with a real lemon. There are some shady spots selling refurbs that will sell you bunk merch in exchange for your hard-earned cash. But if you know what you’re looking for, and more importantly, what to avoid, you can load up the base of your tree with all tech items on your family’s wishlist without going over your holiday budget.

What does it mean when something is “refurbished?”

First things first: when an item is advertised as “refurbished,” what exactly does that mean?

“Essentially,” said Caroline Thompson, an OppLoans content manager and former retail reporter who’s been covering shopping and holiday deals for nearly half a decade, “when something is labeled as refurbished, it means that it was returned for being defective and repaired – sometimes by the store, sometimes by the manufacturer, and sometimes by a third party.”

To know which kinds of refurbished items are safe to buy, and which to avoid like the plague, Thompson said you should pay special notice to the code words retailers use when labeling their refurbished products. Typically, items being sold as refurbished fall into one of these four categories:

  • Open Box – If an item is labeled as “open box,” it means it has been returned to the store open, but likely not used. These items are usually not returned because of any defect in the product, but instead because the customer changed their mind. Open box items are usually in like-new condition, but they can’t be sold as new because, as the name states, their box has been opened. These are typically safe buys from major retailers like Best Buy, but you need to take a close look at the warranty deal. Many open box sellers will offer warranties that start when the item was originally sold, which could mean it may already be expired by the time you buy it.
  • Used – If an item is labeled as “used,” it has been previously utilized by another person. It may have some nicks and scratches on it, and it probably has not gone through any kind of internal repairs or upgrades before being put back on the shelf. These are typically not smart buys unless you are an expert in assessing the quality of used electronics. Used items very rarely come with any kind of warranty, and often are sold as final sale, so you won’t be able to return it if it breaks or is found to be defective.
  • Refurbished – If an item is labeled as “refurbished,” it generally means that it’s been cleaned and repaired back to like-new quality. However, if it’s not specified WHO did the refurbishing, you should tread lightly. It could mean the store did it, or it could mean some random guy named Joe did it in his basement. The quality is not always guaranteed, and the warranty may be void.
  • ‘Factory’ or ‘Certified’ Refurbished – Items labeled as either “factory refurbished” or “certified refurbished” are going to be your best bet for buying quality, long-lasting electronics for less. Items with these labels have typically gone back to the manufacturer and been completely revamped, retested and repackaged just like new. They’ve been certified as working properly and often come with the same warranty as a brand-new item.

In general, Thompson said if it’s not labeled as factory or certified refurbished, and if it doesn’t come with a warranty, you should think twice about buying it.

Where to buy refurbished items?

Thompson said the best place to buy factory or certified refurbished items is directly from the manufacturer. For example, if you’re looking to replace your old MacBook, you can find a great deal on a like-new machine at the Apple Store, from the Apple-Certified Refurbished section of their website. Apple rarely offers any kind of sizable deals on their new items, so shopping Apple-Certified Refurbished offers consumers a rare chance at getting a rare discount on a computer, iPad, iPhone or Apple TV.

Right now you can get a refurbished 13.3-inch, 2017 MacBook Pro for $1,099 refurbished, while a brand new 13.3-inch MacBook Pro is selling for $1,300. That’s $200 off the exact same machine, with the exact same warranty and Apple Care to boot. There’s literally no reason to spend the extra cash on a new laptop.

“My current laptop is an Apple-Certified Refurbished MacBook and it’s great,” said Thompson. “It works just as well as any other MacBook I’ve ever had, and I got it for almost $300 less than I would have paid for a new machine. I’ve had it for almost a year and a half and have had zero problems so far.”

Similarly, pretty much every major electronics manufacturer offers a certified refurbished option: SamsungMicrosoft and HP among them, and these are going to be the best places to shop refurbished items if you want to ensure the best quality, and get a decent warranty on your items.

Retailers like Best Buy and Amazon also offer certified refurbished options on most of their products, although Thompson says you need to be careful to look at the warranty for these refurbished electronics. Typically Best Buy and other third-party sellers will offer 60-90 day warranties on refurbished electronics, versus the 12-month or multiple-year warranties offered for free by the manufacturers of certain products – and when it comes to electronics, a good warranty is key, and can save you a lot of cash on replacement purchases.

What kind of items should you buy refurbished?

In general, Thompson says the best items to buy refurbished are computers (both desktop and laptop), tablets, smartphones and even appliances. These items go through extensive testing and are often even less likely to break than their brand-new counterparts, as they’ve had extra care and attention before being resold to you.

As for what you should avoid? Thompson cautions against buying refurbished printers, hard drives or TVs – especially if they’re being sold by a third-party retailer.

“I know it’s tempting to buy that refurbished HDTV online, but I’ve heard so many horror stories about people receiving broken or malfunctioning used TVs,” said Thompson. “If you really must buy a refurbished TV, printer or hard drive, be very mindful about the warranty. If it only comes with two months of protection, it’s just not worth it.”

For more information on holiday spending, saving and budgeting, check out these related posts from OppLoans:

What are your tips and strategies for buying refurbished? We want to know! You can email us or you can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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static1.squarespaceCaroline Thompson (@coralinexmaria) is a content manager at OppLoans and a contributing writer for both VICE Media and AOL Partner Studio. She has a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Minnesota and a Master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In the past, Caroline was managing editor and weekly columnist for the Minneapolis-based culture site MPLS.TV, a child welfare reporter for Medill Reports, and the senior content strategist at Brad’s Deals.

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