Why you should consider purchasing refurbished over new electronics

Refurbished electronics offer a number of advantages, both from a financial perspective and for society overall. Learn why this might be a good option for consumers and businesses alike.

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Image: Shutterstock/Elnur

I've long been a fan of refurbished electronics because the refurbished items I've bought — laptops, smartphones and tablets — have had the same lifespan as the new out-of-the-box versions. They've been cheaper and just as reliable for me. 

I feel the same way about cars. I have never bought a new one and never regretted buying a used one, as they've always lasted many years and I have no desire to pay extra for something fresh out of the box, unless it's a birthday cake.

And there's another set of benefits to refurbished electronics these days, which I discussed with Lauren Benton, the general manager at Back Market.

"One major issue here is too much demand, and not enough supply of chips. Refurbished electronics helps alleviate supply chain woes by keeping chips in circulation longer. Back Market­­ is leading the charge against buying new these days to support and promote sustainability in tech," Benton told me.

She outlined further the benefits of buying refurbished:

First and foremost, major cost savings can be realized. Refurbished devices are usually half the price of new while still functioning like new (they can be up to 70% off the price of new).

Better quality is another factor. Benton said that when working with professional refurbishers, consumers can expect a professional review of their device. I myself can attest to this since these devices have been proven to work reliably.

"For example, at Back Market, all sellers must meet a 25-point quality charter, which ensures that the defective rate on the platform remains low — generally below 5%. For reference, the unofficial failure rate of new devices hovers at around 3% (case in point, the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus, which both came out at the end of 2017, were each reported to have a 3% failure rate in Q1 of 2018)" she told me.

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Then there is an environmentally friendly factor. Benton pointed out that the majority of carbon emissions generated by a single device comes from the production process alone, before it is transported to shelves (80% in the case of iPhone 13), while refurbishing is usually a third of that.

"Purchasing a refurbished electronic device allows us to make the most out of the resources we have already used for its initial production, while also reducing the overall impact of e-waste on the planet by keeping it from the landfill for as long as possible," Benton said. 

A new smartphone produces 56 kg of carbon emissions vs. just 11 kg from a refurbished smartphone. There are also issues with the collection of waste; the refurbished market will help slow the pace of manufacturing and buying new devices so that recycling efforts can finally catch up to the amount of e-waste produced.

As a parent with three children all wielding somewhat outdated devices I can agree with Benton's point that new releases are incremental and may not be needed to get the job done. 

"Especially in smartphones, innovation has slowed down in yearly releases. We encourage customers to consider if they really need these incremental updates when the flagship-level features most people are looking for can be found in the last few years versions," she said.

And most of all, we discussed the current supply chain issues as the pandemic rolls on. 

"Simply put, the global chip shortage and other logistical factors are making it difficult to get tech in a timely or reasonably priced manner," she said. Refurbished devices simply make sense to obtain the resources you need now rather than waiting.

Benton offered these four points to focus on what to think about when shopping refurbished:

1. What was checked and tested? 

Devices should be guaranteed to function like new, meaning the refurbisher is testing everything from the battery and screen, to the speakers and mic, and much more. This list should be readily available.

2. What is the aesthetic state of the product? 

If everything is functioning like new, are you okay with a few dents and scratches or do you want a virtually new looking device? This can vary and impact the price, but may be something to consider depending on what the device will be used for.

3. What is the return policy and warranty? 

First, is it easy to return the product for any reason, including if you just changed your mind or if the product does not come as described? Second, how are you protected and for how long?

4. What is the company's track record? 

It is important to understand if the company is delivering on all they say related to the above. Reviews should be readily available so you don't have to take their word for it."

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