Buying Refurbished Products - What You Need To Know

Tips on buying refurbished audio/video components

Man looking at music equipment through windows of electronic shop
Justin Pumfrey/The Image Bank/Getty Images

We are always looking for bargains. It is hard to resist those After-Holiday, End-of-Year, and Spring Clearance sales. However, another way to save money throughout the year is to buy refurbished products. This article discusses the nature of refurbished products and some helpful hints on what to ask and look for when purchasing such products.

What Qualifies As A Refurbished Item?

When most of us think of a refurbished item, we think of something that has been opened up, torn apart, and rebuilt, like an auto transmission rebuild, for instance.

However, in the electronics world, it is not so obvious as to what the term "refurbished" actually means for the consumer.

 An audio or video component can be classified as refurbished if it meets ANY of the following criteria:

Customer Return

Most major retailers have a 30-day return policy for their products and many consumers, for whatever reason, return products within that time period. Most of the time, if there is nothing wrong with the product, stores will just reduce the price and resell it as an open box special. However, if there is some sort of defect present in the product, many stores have agreements to return the product to the manufacturer where it is inspected and/or repaired, and then repackaged for sale as a refurbished item.

Shipping Damage

Many times, packages can get damaged in shipping, whether due to mishandling, the elements, or other factors. In most cases, the product in the package may be perfectly fine, but the retailer has the option to return the damaged boxes (who wants to put a damaged on box on the shelf?) to the manufacturer for full credit.

The manufacturer, then, is obligated to inspect the products and repackage them in new boxes for sale. However, they cannot be sold as new products, so they are relabeled as refurbished units.

Cosmetic Damage

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, a product may have a scratch, dent, or another form of cosmetic damage that does not affect the performance of the unit.

The manufacturer has two choices; to sell the unit with it cosmetic damage visible or fix the damage by placing the internal components into a new cabinet or casing. Either way, the product qualifies as refurbished, as the internal mechanisms that may be unaffected by the cosmetic damaged are still checked.

Demonstration Units

Although at the store level, most retailers sell their old demos off the floor, some manufacturers will take them back, inspect and/or repair them, if needed, and send them back out as refurbished units for sale. This may also apply to demo units used by the manufacturer at trade shows, returned by product reviewers and internal office use.

Defect During Production

In any assembly line production process, a specific component can show up as defective because of a faulty processing chip, power supply, disc loading mechanism, or another factor. Most of the time, this is caught before the product leaves the factory, however, defects can show up after the product hits store shelves. As a result of customer returns, inoperative demos, and excessive product breakdowns within the warranty period of a specific element in the product, a manufacturer may "recall" a product from a specific batch or production run that exhibits the same defect.

When this occurs, the manufacturer can repair all the defective units and send them back out to retailers as refurbished units for sale.

The Box Was Merely Opened

Although, technically, there is no issue here other than the box was opened and was sent back to the manufacturer for repacking (or repacked by the retailer), the product is still classifies refurbished because it was repacked, even though no refurbishing has occurred.

Overstock Items

Most of the time, if a retailer has an overstock of a particular item they simply reduce the price and put the item on sale or clearance. However, sometimes, when a manufacturer introduces a new model, it will "collect" the remaining stock of the older models still on store shelves and redistribute them to specific retailers for quick sale.

In this case, the item can be sold either as "a special purchase" or can be labeled as refurbished.

What All Of The Above Means For The Consumer

Basically, when an electronic product is shipped back to the manufacturer, for whatever reason, where it is inspected, restored to original specification (if needed), tested and/or repackaged for resale, the item can no longer be sold as "new", but can only be sold as "refurbished".

Tips On Buying Refurbished Products

As you can see from the overview presented above, it is not always clear what the exact origin or condition of a refurbished product is. It is impossible for the consumer to know what the reason is for the "refurbished" designation for a specific product is. At this point, you must disregard any "supposed" knowledge the salesman tries to impart to you on this aspect of the product because he/she has no inside knowledge on this issue either.

Therefore, taking all of the above possibilities into consideration, here are several questions you need to ask when shopping for a refurbished product.

  • Is the refurbished unit being sold by a retailer that is also authorized to sell new products made by the same company?
  • Does the refurbished unit have a U.S. warranty (it should have a 45 to 90-day Parts and Labor warranty)? -- Also, sometimes refurbished units are a gray market -- which means they may not have been originally intended the U.S. market.
  • Does the retailer offer a return or exchange policy for the refurbished unit if you are not happy (15-days or more)?
  • Does the retailer offer an extended warranty for the item? This doesn't mean you have to buy an extended warranty -- but whether or not they offer one indicates their degree of support for the product. In addition, if the dealer is not an authorized dealer of the brand, they would be hesitant to offer an extended warranty for it.

If the answers to all of these questions are positive, purchasing a refurbished unit may be a smart move. Although some refurbished products may be repaired or serviced units, it is quite possible that the product merely had a minor defect during its initial production run (such as a series of defective chips, etc...) or subject to an earlier recall. However, the manufacturer can go back, repair the defect(s) and offer the units to retailers as "refurbs".

Final Thoughts On Purchasing Refurbished Items

Buying a refurbished item can be a great way to get a great product at a bargain price. There is no logical reason the why being merely labeled "refurbished" should attach a negative connotation to the product under consideration.

After all, even new products can be lemons, and let's face it, all refurbished products were new at one point. However, when buying such a product, whether it be a refurbished camcorder, AV receiver, television, DVD player, etc... from either an online or off-line retailer, it is important to make sure you can inspect the product yourself and that the retailer backs up the product with some sort of return policy and warranty to the extent outlined in my buying tips to ensure that your purchase has value.

For additional information on what to look out for when buying products during Clearance Sales, be sure to also check out my companion article: After-Christmas And Clearance Sales - What You Need To Know.

For more useful shopping tips, check out: Save Money When Buying A TV.

More Info From Lifewire:

Buying a Refurbished/Used iPod or iPhone

Used Cell Phones: When to Take the Plunge for Refurbished Cell Phones

Buying Refurbished Laptop and Desktop Computers

How to Get Your Mac Ready for Resale

HAPPY SHOPPING!