Everyone likes to save money—it’s one of the biggest reasons why we spend so much time researching the best deals here at Reviewed. But sometimes that amazing product you’ve had your eye on—like a new Macbook or a massive flat-screen television—just never goes on sale. Or worse, when it does the savings are so minor, your dream device is still completely out of your price range. What then?
For many shoppers, buying items refurbished seems like the perfect solution. Products that are labeled “refurbished” are fully functional but they can’t technically be sold as “new” anymore, for reasons that vary by manufacturer. Because of this, they’re typically cheaper and you could save hundreds of dollars depending on your purchase.
Sounds good, right? Except if you’ve never shopped for refurbished items before, just the term itself might leave you feeling a bit squeamish. Some might wonder, since this product isn’t new and is being sold at a discount, does that mean it’s defective or something? Aside from questions about the integrity of a refurbished product, shoppers may also be used to buying things new and get weirded out at the thought of anything that might seem to be in less-than-stellar condition.
Worried that refurbished items seem like a deal that’s too good to be true? Here’s everything you need to know before you start looking for refurbished items, including what the term itself really means and which products are worth the risk—plus which ones to avoid at all costs.
What does “refurbished” mean?
Refurbished can mean something different depending on the manufacturer, but usually it means that a product was purchased by a customer and eventually returned while it was still under warranty because the buyer had an issue.
Beyond product defects, a product might end up labeled as “refurbished” for other reasons, such as:
Shipping and/or exterior damage: If a shipment arrives with dents, scratches, or other surface damage, a customer might send it back, and in turn a retailer may direct it back to the manufacturer, where it ends up in the refurb pool.
Open box: These are that were purchased, used, then returned by a customer and might show small signs of wear and cosmetic damage, but may be considered “refurbished” because they were examined and found to be in resale condition.
Unopened/returned: Sometimes, a customer might return something they never even opened, but it could still end up categorized as a “refurbished” item, even though there’s technically nothing wrong with it.
Demo models: Products that were used in stores, displayed at trade shows, or loaned to reviewers might be repackaged and eventually sold as refurbished items.
Things that are safe to buy refurbished
In the past, we’ve covered some products that are generally okay to buy refurbished, including Vitamix blenders, camera lenses (especially from Canon), and game consoles. While you should always be sure to double-check the return policies and warranties before you purchase anything, especially when it’s refurbished, these items are still fine to shop for if you’re looking to save.
However, here are some additional refurbished items that we think are safe to add to that list, including:
Laptops and tablets: Apple is the gold standard when it comes to shopping for refurbished items, and you can save hundreds depending on what you’re shopping for—for instance, this 2017 MacBook Pro (Save $200) and this iPad Pro (Save $130) are both terrific deals. But Apple isn’t the only manufacturer where you can get high-quality refurbished laptops or tablets. You can save up to 40% on refurbished items HP and Dell, which is great if you prefer PCs to Macs.
Vacuums: Having a good vacuum around is pretty essential, and regardless of which type you prefer, you can find a ton of refurbished vacuums out there. Amazon has a massive selection, but a word of caution: this authorized reseller only offers a 90-day warranty on refurbs, not a full year warranty (only a select number of retailers offer a full year warranty on refurbs, but those are the places to go). Dyson has a ton of refurbished models, but their warranty is also slightly skewed: instead of the standard five-year warranty they offer on new models, these are only covered for six months.
Headphones: I lose headphones like it’s my job. That said, I still care about having a good set, and if you’re someone like me misplaces headphones but still feels passionately about the quality of each set, refurb could be the way to go, especially since two of the biggest places to shop for them—Amazon and Best Buy—both offer a ton of high-quality headphones to choose from that just so happen to be refurbished. Best Buy’s options tend to be on the pricier side, like this set of Beats by Dre Powerbeats3 that are just under $75 refurb (you can get the same set refurbished on Amazon for $69.99), so it’s wise to shop around.
Household appliances: Looking for a new washer and dryer, or perhaps just a new microwave or a similar small household appliance? You should be covered if you’re shopping at Best Buy, since the retailer has a huge assortment of refurbished appliances. Sears Outlet also offers some ridiculously good deals on refurbished items for around the house, like this Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffeemaker (Save $12.03).
Things you should avoid buying refurbished
Shopping for refurbished products can potentially save you a boatload of money, and since the most reputable manufacturers also offer warranties on these items, you’re mostly covered in the event that something goes wrong with whatever you buy. Not only that, but it’s a more environmentally friendly way to shop since you’re actually helping reduce waste.
But with some refurbished items, you absolutely should be wary. Unauthorized third-party resellers and retailers that don’t offer warranties send off major red flags. One of the biggest places for unauthorized third-party resellers is on eBay. While some major retailers—like Dyson, for instance—sell through the site, it’s largely a hub for private resellers, which can be dicey. Even if resellers claim that something is refurbished directly from the manufacturer, there’s no way to truly confirm this, so you definitely want to use caution.
Retailers that don’t offer a return policy are best avoided too, since you have no guarantee that you’ll actually get your money’s worth or have support in the event that something malfunctions. Refurbished items being sold “as-is” are a gamble, so you really have to weigh your purchasing decisions carefully.
Even assuming you’ll get the best warranties available, there are still a few items that you’re better off skipping if they’re refurbished, such as:
HDDs or SSDs: When it comes to hard drives or solid state drives, everything that’s good about the refurbished process goes out the window. The logic behind buying refurbished items (beyond saving money) is that you’re getting something that should be in like-new, resellable condition as it is. But there’s no real way to restore a hard drive or SSD to its factory condition, so you’re throwing caution into the wind with these types of units. Instead, you’re better off shopping for one that’s new, and most are relatively affordable, especially for laptops or if you’ve got a tight budget.
Phones: Thinking of buying a refurbished phone? You might be asking for trouble. Like with any other refurbished gadget, you have no way of totally knowing just how much abuse one has taken before it landed in your hands. That might not be an issue if you’re shopping with a reputable seller, but often times warranties on refurbished phones aren’t very good. (For example, at AT&T a standard warranty on new phones is a year; for certified restored, it’s 90 days and for certified pre-owns, there is no warranty.) Getting a refurbished phone fixed if and when it starts to go haywire may be tricky as a result. All in all, if you need to buy a phone, you’re probably better off just going for a newer model, since at least that way it’s less likely to malfunction.
Televisions: There’s a lot of debate about whether or not TVs are safe to buy refurbished. The advantages are clear from the jump: you could be saving hundreds of dollars and end up with an impressive flat-screen that would be out of your budget otherwise. However, there’s no way to truly know how much use that TV had before you laid hands on it, and you might run into screen issues, especially as time wears on. Shopping for refurbished TVs could be a toss-up, but the risk is much lower if you’re able to go to a store and see the unit in person before you buy..
Printers: Buying a refurbished printer might not seem like the worst idea, but the same argument stated above applies. It might be hard to tell if your newly purchased printer is in factory-new condition, in which case, the ink and toner previously used in it might have worn down the innards in a way that makes it less of a good deal than previously thought. If you can find a great deal on one and ensure that there’s a good warranty or generous return policy in place, it might be worthwhile to take a shot on one.
How do I know refurbished items will even work?
Thinking about buying refurbished products? Your best bet is to shop directly from the manufacturer.
Why? Because once the manufacturer gets a product back, they begin a process of reconditioning so that the product is in like-new condition again. That could be as straightforward as replacing a box or battery, or it could be more extensive, especially if there were serious problems within the original unit. In some cases, it might even entail a total overhaul or rebuild of the initial model. If you don’t go through the original manufacturer, you’re likely getting a product that was repaired by a third-party with foreign parts within it, so it may not function effectively as a result.
No matter how significant the defects actually are, products refurbished by the manufacturer go through a rigorous testing process before they’re approved for resale again. Once they pass these testing requirements, they become “certified refurbished,” meaning the product is up to the manufacturer’s quality standards. While these testing methods differ based on the product and manufacturer, they’re designed to ensure that each item will perform as promised—so, most importantly, you won’t get screwed.
Many retailers and manufacturers offer warranties on refurbished items, which you should confirm before you buy anything. While 90-day warranties are generally the most common, finding a full warranty (ex. a year) can help you gain peace of mind and will keep you covered in case anything goes wrong.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.