As a system administrator responsible for procuring technology-related equipment for users, I know that navigating the vendor realm to get the most bang for your buck is a challenge. Buying new equipment often means less hassle with troubleshooting and support. However, it can also entail unnecessary expenditures and keep companies clinging to outdated equipment past a reasonable life span.
I spoke with the folks at Back Market, a refurbished electronics supplier, about purchasing refurbished devices. They said that, "refurbished products are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to new ones."
This is especially evident in the smartphone segment, where the refurbished market grew by 13% in 2017 as compared to the 3% growth of new smartphones in the same period.
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During our discussion we thought of ten tips for buying refurbished electronics.
1. Know the difference between refurbished and used
Typically, a used product is something resold by an individual (I don't recommend making such purchases for a business environment). Refurbished equipment is more reliable and better suited for bulk or repeat purchases, since it is re-tooled by a certified refurbisher and usually comes with a warranty.
Make sure to buy from a dedicated refurbishing organization. Do your research when picking a supplier. Check out customer reviews, ratings, and history to make sure that you are purchasing from a reputable organization.
2. Set the vendor expectation bar high
In addition to good product selection, you'll want a supplier that offers live customer service and user-friendly buying/returning policies. Also, beware that some sellers are fences for stolen devices, so your research (mentioned above) comes in handy. Websites with many phone numbers, addresses, positive reviews, press coverage, and testimonials usually signal a legitimate and reputable business.
Learn about how a business selects equipment from other vendors to provide to their customers. For instance, Back Market has a strict quality standard and only works with refurbishers who pass a control process. They routinely re-check the process to ensure quality level remains consistent.
3. Read the fine print on any warranties and/or return policies
Always carefully assess policy details involving protection and returning/exchanging equipment. At a minimum, a policy should offer a six-month warranty and a 30-day return policy. The policies should be standard across the board for the devices you're buying; make sure there is no disparity between iPhones and Android or Dell/Apple laptops, for instance, so as to reduce uncertainty and confusion.
4. Buy from the same supplier/vendor (when possible)
You're inviting chaos if you buy various equipment from different suppliers. This often results in a hodgepodge of documentation, warranties, contact information, discount pricing, and so forth. Try to establish one trusted supplier for your refurbished equipment needs. At the very least, rely on one specific supplier for each type of device e.g. Vendor A for smartphones, Vendor B for laptops, Vendor C for monitors, etc.
5. Assess the condition of the electronic device(s)
Many sites offer different grade or levels to indicate the device's condition and appearance.They generally use a rating system to indicate what kind of shape the devices is in, so make sure you understand what their rating system means.
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For example, Back Market's "Stallone" rating means "Visible scratches, and maybe even some dents on the exterior" (with a nod to the film character Rocky Balboa). It's the lowest of the five rating levels the marketplace offers. There are generally not specific standard terms or ways to describe the condition of used devices. So, read reviews and descriptions carefully.
Tailor devices with specific conditions towards users/functional needs. Traveling sales people might merit refurbished smartphones with a higher rating than, say, developers, since they're on the road more, and their phones might be subjected to more wear and tear.
6. Check what's in the box
Carefully inventory all contents of the shipping boxes containing refurbished equipment. Make sure you receive all of the accessories you are supposed to get—seek to receive the same items as with a new device purchase, such as a SIM card, charging gear, earphones, stylus, keyboard, instructions, packaging, etc.
Again, build consistency across all devices by ensuring that all accessories are standard so that you don't have one group short-changed on an item. Otherwise, this can lead to support difficulties, and even resentment among users based on the perception of a non-level playing field or one based on favoritism.
7. Buy unlocked phones (if applicable)
Unlocked phones ensure that you are not tied to a specific network. Also, check the battery life. Make sure that the seller describes the battery condition (often with a certified refurbished model it's "brand new" or at least "like new," which means better than 80% of new performance).
8. Scan and store all documentation in a central location
Too much paperwork leads to clutter and difficulty finding the information you need when things break, you need to return something, or you require support. I'm not a fan of filing cabinets, so I recommend scanning all refurbished device documentation and saving it as a PDF file. Then make sure to save all the files in a central location, which is documented so other IT staffers can find it.
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Establish file names and subfolders based on the categories, which work best for your organization. For instance, you might call the file by the user name/device, (AJohnson_iPhone for Art Johnson's iPhone) and store it in a subfolder pertaining to the user's department (Finance). This way you can easily locate the documentation, and it should be backed up for safekeeping.
9. Keep spare parts on hand
Even if you have strong warranties and support contracts, it's handy to keep spare parts if anything goes wrong with a refurbished device, and you need a quick resolution.
Throwing in a spare SSD drive and re-imaging a laptop can get a user up and running within an hour, and in this scenario the refurbishing company can send you a replacement drive (depending on your support policy) that you can put in storage.
It's also a no-brainer to keep easily installable items like batteries on hand if the current ones fail, or perhaps the user needs the extra capacity for a business trip.
10. Be forward-thinking
Don't buy refurbished equipment just to cling onto old technology either due to a fear of change or perhaps an irrational preference for an outdated device.
I can speak from first-hand experience; years ago I was obsessed with my Palm TX handheld device, which was discontinued in late 2009. I sought to procure a refurbished model on eBay, which lasted a year then broke. I considered buying another (They're still available on eBay!) before I realized that I'd miss out on the newer devices available at the time. I switched to Blackberry. When those became passe, I switched to Android.
The point is, no matter how much you might love a particular item, sooner or later it becomes obsolete, and you're just limiting yourself (or your users) by clinging to the past.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.