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Is it Safe to Buy Refurbished Products?

Understanding Refurbished, Open Box, Scratch & Dent, and Display Products

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If you have been shopping for electronics, computers, power tools and appliances you have probably found that some of the best prices are on refurbished products. The prices are usually lower than any of the like products that are on sale or eligible for other savings. But is it safe to buy refurbished products? What are the risks?

What Is a Refurbished Product?

The term "refurbished" has become rather a catch term for products that have at one time, or still are imperfect in some way. However, there are a lot of differences in how a truly refurbished product is handled, compared to other products that are simply discounted due to an imperfection.

Generally, refurbished products are those that have been returned to a manufacturer for a variety of reasons. They are then completely restored to the original condition. Refurbished products go through extensive inspections to correct whatever flaws may exist. Once they pass inspection, they are then sent back out into the marketplace and sold at a much lower price than the non-refurbished products.

What Kind of Flaws Qualify Products as Refurbished?

Although there are different specifics depending on the type of product that qualifies for refurbished, most all will fall under one of the following descriptions.
  • Customer Returns

    Most all retailers now offer 15 to 30 day return policies that permit customers to return products for any reason. The allowed return days are often extended during the winter holiday season. If a product is returned and the box that it was packaged in has been opened and the item has been removed from the box, it should no longer be sold at full retail price.

    Because of a somewhat liberal return policy, especially with certain types of products, there may be shorter return days or higher restocking fees.

    For example, home generators are generally subjected to shorter return days, higher restocking fees, and customers returning to online stores often absorb any shipping fees. This is due to the short duration that most generators are needed (such as after storms) and the policy helps protect retailers and manufacturers from absorbing all of the loss from having to resell generators at a loss that are being returned simply because the customer is finished using it.

    If the product was not used and the product manuals and warranty cards have been returned with the product, most retailers will box it properly, reduce the price and return it to the selling floor. This kind of "refurbished" product is often sold as “open box" and can offer the best deal to shoppers if the price has been substantially reduced, because it will often still qualify for a full warranty.

    Shoppers buying "open box" merchandise should always do a complete check of the contents to make sure everything, including the instruction manual and warranty cards, are inside the box.

    A product that has been returned by a customer because of an electronic, mechanical or some other operating defect is usually by the retailer to the manufacturer. It then goes through rigorous testing, problems are fixed, the item is retested and inspected, the warranty is adjusted and it is resold to retailers as "refurbished" and at a substantially lower price. Those savings are then passed on to the customers.

  • Cosmetic Flaws

    Cosmetic flaws such as scratches, dents or color variances can happen for a variety of reasons and sometimes occur within the retail store or at the manufacturer.

    Since it is a cosmetic defect, the actual working parts are unaffected. Depending on the cost, manufacturers will either place the working parts into a new casing or offer it to retailers at a refurbished price. Both solutions still qualify the product as a refurbished product and all working components still go through the same careful inspections as all other returned or defective products.

    However, this process is different from products found at retailers that have not been returned to the manufacturer or sold from the manufacturer because of cosmetic flaws. If the retailer has a product that has been scratched or dented, the item is often substantially reduced in price, but has not been re-inspected by the manufacturer. These products will often be labeled as "open box" "display" or segregated in a "scratch and dented" section of the store.

  • Products Damaged During Shipping

    When retailers receive products through shipping, each product is closely inspected to insure that the actual box that the product comes in has not been damaged. If a box has been badly dented, torn or is somehow not perfect, the retailer has the option to return it to the manufacturer. At that point the item is completely inspected, tested and resold as refurbished even though all that was damaged was the box that the item was shipped inside.

    Retailers should not sell products in damaged, resealed or imperfect boxes at the full retail price. If a shopper wishes to purchase an item in a damaged box and the retail price is not discounted, they should ask for a price adjustment.

    If the same product is available in an undamaged box, some retailers will not adjust the item in the damaged box as a protection against unethical shoppers who purposely caused the damage in order to get a reduced price. The retailer will instead return the item to the manufacturer, rather than submit losses due to this kind of consumer scheme.

  • Defective Products

    Although all products go through manufacturer inspections before being sold to retailers, there are defects that will appear after the product has been sold to consumers. Numerous components can end up being defective. Some occur in all of a particular model sold; others are individual defects that occur randomly.

    When a manufacturer discovers that a particular model fails to operate properly they will either issue a recall for the remaining unsold products, replace the defective parts and sell them back to retailers as refurbished. This can be a real plus for consumers, because many times the replacement parts are the same parts that are going into the newest models and are far superior to what was originally in the products sold with defects.

    Unfortunately, this is not always the case and some of the top manufacturers choose to ignore problems and simply offer retailers discount dollars to help sell whatever is left on the store shelves. This can be a particularly bad situation for consumers who fail to keep up with receipts and warranty information, because many times the problem will not appear until months after the purchase is made.

    When buying any electronics, computers and computer accessories, appliances - small and large, and power tools it is always a good idea to do a consumer search on the product model before making a purchase. The internet offers a vast amount of product reviews, consumer complaints and consumer information of defective products.

  • Demonstration and Displayed Products

    Products that have been used for demonstration purposes either at retail stores or at the manufacturer will often be put through the same testing, recasing, repackaging and thorough inspections that other returned products receive. The products are then sold back to retailers as refurbished products and the savings is passed on to the consumer.
As you can see there are many reasons products can end up being refurbished. Because of the careful attention refurbished products receive before being sent back to retail stores, the performance of the products should be equal to the same products that are new.

Next> What You Need to Know Before Buying Refurbished Products

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