What does all the 'Refurbished' jargon actually mean?

We see the term ‘refurbished’ all the time (along with phrases like ‘reconditioned’, ‘remanufactured’, ‘refreshed’, ‘recycled’, ‘repaired’, ‘recertified’, ‘like new’, ‘open box’, ‘display’, ‘demo’, ‘overstock’, ‘used’ and the dreaded ‘as is’).

When we see a product marked as ‘refurbished’ (or similar names) most of us have visions of someone buying that product, using it for a few weeks, months or years and then trading it for a newer model or throwing it away. Someone else then takes that product, cleans it up, maybe replaces a few parts and then turns around and resells it at a discount. Usually, the main difference between ‘refurbished’ and ‘used’ products is that refurbished products have been tested and verified to function properly, and are thus free of defects, while ‘used’ products may or may not have been thoroughly tested and may or may not be defective.

But that isn’t necessarily always the case.

Refurbished products can come from any number of sources and in many instances the products have never been used by anyone – they are exactly the same as their brand new, fresh out of the box counterparts.

About the only time you can be reasonably sure that an item has never been used is if it is marked as ‘overstock’, ‘close out’ or ‘discontinued.’ In many cases the products have simply been replaced by newer models and resellers have either returned them to the manufacture or distributor or brokered a deal with companies that specialise in overstock and discontinued product buyouts. Those companies then sell the products at wholesale prices to companies that specialise in refurbishing and reselling older equipment. Essentially ‘overstock’, ‘close out’ or ‘discontinued’ products can be sold as ‘new’ – they just cost less.

Products without manuals, opened boxes, damaged boxes, missing components (like remote controls, power supply, chargers, cables or other components that can easily be replaced), products with cosmetic damage and canceled orders can all end up as refurbished products. Even though they may never have been used, by law in the U.S. they can no longer be sold as new. If you look inside the box and the device is still factory wrapped but it is missing a power supply or manual then it could end up saving you a lot of money. If the unit was just jammed back into the original box with loose components and cables out of their original bags then you might want to think twice.

Products used for sales displays, demo units or products used for review can also end up as refurbished products. But keep in mind those six months on the counter being banged on by kids, open and closed, turned on and off a thousand times (or being left on for months at a time) and generally suffering constant physical abuse may not be the safest choices.

In some cases people decide after opening the box that the product wasn’t exactly what they wanted or perhaps they received the product as a gift. Opened products that have been returned to a store can no longer be sold as new even if they have never been used. The trouble is, you don’t know what happened to that device after it was opened – perhaps nothing, perhaps everything.

There are instances when a new product was shipped before a bug was discovered. A simple hardware or firmware upgrade could solve the problem but sometimes that isn’t really practical and again, once a box has been opened the product can no longer be sold as new. In these cases someone can take that product, perform the fix and sell it at a discount even though it would actually be better than the original version that still had the flaw.

There are also many companies that prefer to lease their office and computer equipment for a set amount of time and then, at the end of the lease, return it and lease all new equipment. In those cases you can be relatively certain that the product was indeed used by someone but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is ready for the recycle bin. I’ve heard of people buying refurbished, high-end networked printers that have only printed a few thousand pages over their lifetime (a small fraction of what they should be capable of) yet you can get them for a fraction of the cost of buying new ones.

Manufacturers also take in broken or damaged equipment or trade-ins and completely replace or repair the components, re-test the equipment and re-sell it as ‘factory’ or ‘manufacturer’ reconditioned or even ‘certified refurbished.’ Equipment that has been reconditioned or refurbished by the original manufacturer (or a factory certified repair facility) are generally more reliable.

You will also find equipment that was repaired or refurbished by a store or distributor but you can’t always be sure that they did as good a job as the original manufacturer.

And finally, yes, there are cases when a company takes used, discarded or recycled equipment cleans it, replaces any broken or missing components, tests it and resells it as ‘refurbished.’

At the very bottom of the reliability scale are items marked ‘as is.’ That usually means the store doesn’t even know if it works, what was done to it, what parts may or may not be missing, etc. I wouldn’t even consider buying an ‘as is’ product unless I could inspect it thoroughly (including powering it up and testing it for a while). And it should come with a warrantee at least as good as the warrantee on a brand new version with at least some sort of limited return policy if it blows up after a few days use.

So is there any way to tell where a particular piece of ‘refurbished’ equipment came from? Unfortunately no. There are no laws or regulations regarding ‘refurbished’ equipment other than the fact that it cannot be sold as ‘new.’

However, there are some vendors who will try to provide as much information as they can to the buyer (it is, after all, in their best interest) and any reputable vendor will offer warranties and reasonable return policies on any equipment they sell.

So if you are thinking about purchasing ‘refurbished’, ‘reconditioned’, ‘remanufactured’ or other less-than-new equipment it’s a good idea to ask the vendor where they got the product from, what, if anything, they did to restore the product to ‘like new’ specs, research the vendor’s policies on warranties and returns and always buy from a reputable company with a good reputation.

If you want to get an idea of the types of savings available buying refurbished, discontinued or heavily discounted computer equipment check out TGDaily’s new partner Buy the Other Guys at buytheotherguys.com.

Image Credit: lungstruck