There are few people who say they would turn down a bargain, especially when it comes to electronics. The past year has taught us just how dependent we are on technology, and with the future far from certain, having the right technology could help make life easier in the coming months.
All this investment adds up. But play your cards right and you could save yourself hundreds of euro, often for very little trade-off. How? Refurbished devices.
When it comes to technology “refurbished” has a very broad meaning. In some cases, it may have been opened and returned by a customer who changed their mind; in others, it may have needed a repair but is in otherwise good condition. Some manufacturers will also discount products with damaged packaging and sell it as refurbished.
Discounts can also vary considerably, making it hard to discern what is a true bargain, and what is simply a company shifting on unwanted stock.
If you are buying refurbished devices, it makes sense that the discount makes it worth it. For many people, price is the deciding factor, although it is by no means the only reason.
According to a survey carried out for electronics marketplace Refurbed, Irish consumers are increasingly considering opting for a refurbished device when buying their technology. More than half of those surveyed for the Refurbed survey said price was important, with 51 per cent saying it would be a reason for purchasing a refurbished device.
Environmental factors are also a consideration, with Irish consumers also considering their carbon footprint when choosing technology. That has translated into a growing number of people who are willing to consider refurbished or second-hand devices, with 73 per cent saying they would buy a pre-owned device if it lowered their carbon footprint.
Younger users are more likely to buy refurbished technology, with 88 per cent of 18-24 year olds saying they would opt for pre-owned devices if it affected their carbon footprint.
"I think it's great that we see that the Irish consumer really ties sustainability in electronics with refurbished products," Refurbed co-founder Peter Windischhofer said. "We see the consumer realises it matters what they buy, that consumer choice matters."
So, price and eco-credentials aside, what should you look out for when buying refurbished devices?
There are plenty of people offering pre-owned technology. The key is making sure that you get a good deal and don’t get stuck with something that is likely to break or won’t live up to its promises.
Why is the device you are buying classed as a refurbishment? What condition is it in? And who carried out the work on it? These are all things to consider before parting with your hard-earned cash.
If you buy from a business, you have some consumer rights protection should things go wrong. According to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, you have similar rights when buying second-hand from a business as you would when buying new.
However, there is a caveat.
“Your rights very much depend on how much you paid for the item,” the CCPC says. “Any item you buy, including a second-hand item, must be fit for the purpose it has been sold for. It must also be as described to you, and the quality must be of an expected standard, given the price you paid. However you cannot expect second-hand items to be of the same standard as new ones.”
That means you should expect some imperfection, fault or wear and tear on the device. The important thing though is that the seller is up front about that, and if you ask about damage or imperfections, they should point them out.
Should the item turn out to be faulty, you can return it and ask for a replacement, a repair or a refund.
"The concern with most consumers in this market is whether it's functional in perfect condition, like a new phone, or if there is something wrong with the battery or something else. That's the largest problem we are fixing, actually bringing trust to this market," Swappie's Sami Marttinen said.
If you buy directly from another consumer directly or through social media such as Facebook Marketplaces, things are a bit murkier. In that case, the CCPC says, the item only has to be owned by the seller and fit the description they give you. In other words, buyer beware.
The biggest concern for people when buying technology is often what happens when something goes wrong. With a new product out of the box, you know what you are getting – usually a one-year commercial warranty to go with your device, and in some cases a helpline you can call for customer support.
But what about second-hand products? The good news is that reputable sellers will often offer a commercial warranty on their items. In some cases that might be six months, but the larger sellers will often have one-year commercial warranties on their devices – as good as you get with the brand new version.
As always though, read the fine print to make sure you are protected for all eventualities.
One thing to note: under EU consumer rules, you have a two-year guarantee against faulty products, including second-hand goods bought from a trader.
Delivery and returns
Speaking of things going wrong, if you buy in a real-world store that is local to you, it’s not as big a deal to return it for a refund or a repair. But thanks to the ongoing pandemic, we have all become used to buying online. But that means dealing with deliveries, and occasionally returns.
While we are familiar with the concept of free delivery – a nice benefit when you are spending a considerable amount of money with a seller – it is also worth looking at the retailer’s return policy.
The general thinking is that free returns implies a certain trust in the refurbished products being sold.
Where to buy?
It’s important to seek out reputable sellers when you are choosing your refurbished goods. That isn’t quite as difficult as it used to be, with plenty of options if you want to pick up a cheaper laptop, smartphone, tablet or other device.
Some of the manufacturers run their own refurbishing programme. Apple, for example, offers a range of refurbished products from its range, including Macs, iPhones, Apple Watch, Apple TV and accessories. Each of them comes with a one-year warranty, and have been through an extensive process that includes testings, replacement parts and cleaning. The products are packaged with all the relevant cables – very important – and accessories, and packed in a new box before being delivered to the new customer.
Dell also offers cheaper products through its Dell Outlet. That includes products with minor defects, such as scratches and dents, and certified refurbished devices, covering everything from workhorse Dell laptops and Alienware gaming devices to servers and storage.
There are several independent marketplaces for refurbished technology too, depending on what you are looking for.
If you are looking for an iPhone, Refurbed is one option for shoppers. The Austrian start-up, which offers more than 8,000 products including smartphones, laptops and tablets, launched in Ireland earlier this year. It's not just about shifting pre-owned devices; the process includes a 40-step procedure to return products to factory condition before they are sold. On top of that, customers get a one-year warranty with their device, putting it on a par with the protection offered by a new device.
The company also plants a tree for every product sold to offset carbon emissions created during the refurbishing process through its partnership with Eden Reforestation Projects.
Irish-owned Mint Plus offers a range of unlocked, sim-free smartphones that have been refurbished and tested. That includes iPhones, but also Android devices, mainly from Samsung. The phones are classified into three categories: as new, very good and good, both of which will have varying degrees of superficial scratches and signs of use. They are graded during Mint Plus's 30 point inspection process, which takes in things like the camera and microphone, and then give you the standard one-year warranty for peace of mind.
The marketplace also offers a selection of audio products, smartwatches and tablets for sale, some new, some pre-owned.
Swappie, meanwhile, not only sells refurbished iPhones, but it will also buy them from you too. Founded in 2016 by Sami Marttinen and Jiri Heinonen, the Helsinki-headquartered company buys unwanted iPhones from customers, refurbishes them in its own factory and resells them with a 12-month warranty. It can refurbish most devices, as long as they are not water damaged or have irreparably broken motherboards.
Swappie launched in Ireland in 2020, amid expectations that the demand for refurbished devices would grow in Ireland, as more consumers became aware of the environmental impact of their purchasing decision.