Refurbished: Really Refurbished Or Just Lower Price?

I put in some insane hours at work lately. Management gave me a spot bonus. I treated myself to a Kindle. Not a Kindle Fire tablet, a real Kindle — Kindle Touch to be exact.

I bought it refurbished, at 20% off new. It came in a sealed box, with a clear plastic sheet covering the screen. Everything looked just as new. There was no sign whatsoever of it being a customer return or damaged good. It also carries the same warranty as a new unit.

So it got me thinking. Is it really refurbished or is it just a lower price?

Refurbished Kindles don’t show up if you just search for Kindle on Amazon, not on the first page anyway. Although Amazon usually links to like-new and used products from its own "warehouse deals" and other 3rd party sellers on the product page, they don’t do that for Kindles. If you want to pay less for a Kindle, you really have to look for the refurbished ones.

By marking like-new products as refurbished, Amazon implies the refurbished units are inferior when they really aren’t. This lets them sell more products to those not willing to pay as much while selling the same products at a higher price to those willing to pay a higher price. Classic profit maximizing price discrimination.

Amazon isn’t the only one doing this. When I finally replaced my trusted Garmin StreetPilot 2610 GPS, I bought a refurbished Garmin Nuvi 1390LMT with lifetime maps and traffic updates. Amazon shows I paid $500 (!) for the 2610 in 2006. The replacement only cost $85. There are many refurbished Garmin GPS units for sale. I just can’t believe the failure rates are that high during the manufacturing process or there are that many customer returns.

Do you buy refurbished products? Do you think they are really refurbished or just new products at a lower price?

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Comments

  1. KD says

    From what I understand, most refurbished are not truly refurbished after treating for defects or problems. Most are customer returns who did not like the product. The retailer cannot sale these as new. My last 2 smartphones were refurbs bought for $0 and a 2-yr contract. Saving the $200 off the price tag was worth it.

    The only issue sometimes is the warranty. Some companies do not provide the same warranty provided for new products. I mitigate this by buying with a credit card that tacks on a year of warranty over a normal duration. Since I buy refurbs mostly in tech products and I do not expect them to last forever, the lack of warranty is not a deal breaker.

    One thing I have refused to buy refurbished so far is a laptop. Though I know people who buy them and seem to be happy with their purchases.

  2. xyz says

    I have bought 3 refurbished items (that I’m aware of):

    1. Microsoft Zune MP3 player. Several of the buttons didn’t work properly, and I spent about 2 hours on the phoen with Microsoft before getting a replacement sent to me.

    2. Tivo. Hard drive started getting errors shortly after I installed it. Needed to go through 2 replacements before getting a functional unit.

    3. Asus Tablet. Seemed to work great. Then I found a region of the screen (maybe 20%) that would not respond to touch. Needed to be returned.

    All three of these saved me probably 30% over the ‘new’ price. All three looked brand new when I received them. And all three ended up costing me substantial time and effort. Perhaps some companies call ‘new’ items refurbished so they can clear them out, but others sell crappy stuff that hasn’t been fully recertified as refurbished. The 3 companies above aren’t ‘fly by night’ outfits, and all the items claimed to be ‘factory recertified’.

    So for me, I’m through buying refurbished stuff. It’s just not worth the hassle to save a few bucks.

  3. says

    We’ve bought a refurbished iPad, 13″ MacBook Air, and 17″ MacBook Pro. In each case, the product looked brand new and has held up as if it was purchased new.

    I have no way of knowing whether they actually were new. But I’m not terribly concerned either way. If it looks new and works like new, I don’t care a great deal if it’s not quite new. (Though the treehugger in me does hope at least a little bit that they weren’t new.)

  4. Vijay says

    As someone who works in the electronics industry, I can tell you that refurbs are almost always products returned by customers. Sometimes they have technical issues and sometimes they have none, but you won’t know unless you are a tech in that company. So while you might be rolling the dice a little, you are protected by the return policy should something go wrong. Typically all returned products are inspected, tested (and scrapped if needed) and any simple fixes possible like firware updates etc are applied before they are reboxed and sold as refurb. Some companies will sell “scratch & dent” products seperate from refurb.

  5. says

    My wife just read this article and reminded me that we also have a refurbished VitaMix blender, which definitely is refurbished, as there’s a bit of a chunk taken out of one of the switches. But the defect is just cosmetic. The thing works amazingly well.

  6. Chucks says

    It depends what I was buying. If it’s something that’s either going to work as well as it should or not (in which case I can return it) I’d go with a refurb. Wireless router, kitchen appliances, maybe a powertool, printer, a hard drive/flash drive if I wasn’t going to store anything critical. video game console, probably yes.. I’d think twice about a refurb of something like a plasma screen TV if I was really going to put some money down- those things have a somewhat limited life in terms of brightness, even if you don’t use them. Also anything that would be seriously detrimental if it failed suddenly, say computer RAM or a system hard drive.

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