Refurbished electronics buying guide

Consumer Reports News: August 15, 2008 05:12 PM

TVs, digital cameras, laptops, and other electronics gear that have been returned to a retailer or manufacturer, supposedly restored to good-as-new condition, and then re-sold at bargain prices are starting to look respectable—especially to budget-conscious shoppers. Refurbished goods (also called "reconditioned" or "remanufactured") are even being touted as "green," since they might otherwise be on their way to the landfill.

It's not just fly-by-nights selling gently used gear. Last fall, big-box retailer Target's web site began offering "pre-owned electronics," starting with seldom-discounted Apple iPods., a reputable vendor that has been top-rated in Consumer Reports' annual Ratings of best electronics retailers, sells returned electronics from GPS to TVs at its online Outlet Store., another consistently well-rated retailer, has been selling refurbished gear on its site since 2004.

Among major manufacturers offering their own refurbished electronics are:

There's no shortage of products for these and other vendors to refurbish. Up to one in five consumer electronics items sold are returned, according to technology consulting firm Accenture, and a mere 5 percent or so of those returns are defective. More than two-thirds of electronics returned to retailers work fine.

Products that are returned generally get a good going-over, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. In a 2007 CEA poll, 89 percent of those who refurbish electronics tested a returned product, 84 percent cleaned it, 84 percent repaired it, and over half upgraded components or software.

Price is obviously the main reason consumers would opt for not-quite-new goods, and you can save, but not as much as it might appear at first glance. Recently, Amazon's featured a refurbished Samsung 46-inch LCD TV for $1,365.12—more than half off the list price, but about a third less than Amazon’s price for a brand-new version of the same TV. At Apple’s online store a new 8GB iPod touch media player sells for $299, while a refurb goes for $199—a 33 percent saving. Another reason to consider a refurb is to buy a specific model that’s no longer available.

Consumer Reports tests only new products that any consumer can buy at retail, so we can't report on the performance of refurbished electronics. We can offer a few shopping tips:

  • Buy from a reputable retailer or a manufacturer with a vested interest in protecting a brand's good name. The Annual Car and Product Reliability Survey conducted by The Consumer Reports National Research Center collected almost 1 million reader responses last year. Online subscribers can find out which brands are reliable in desktop computers, laptops, LCD TVs, plasma TVs, and digital cameras. If you don't have a subscription, scope out online discussion boards, such as Consumer Reports' free Electronics and Computers forum, for input from others.
  • Check the return policy. Some merchants have liberal return policies on refurbs, but others are more restrictive. Target allows returns within 90 days of purchase, while Crutchfield and Amazon offer full-refund guarantees for refurbs returned within 30 days. has a 30-day return policy. The Apple Store allows returns within 14 days and deducts a 10 percent restocking fee for opened goods. But refurbished items from’s Clearance Center are final sale, as are new items. We’d think twice about final sale items.
  • Check the warranty. Some retailers and manufacturers offer a 90-day warranty on refurbs; others have one-year warranties. In some cases, there might be no warranty coverage at all unless you purchase an extended warranty.
  • Don't rely on your credit card for extra protection. Many specifically exclude refurbished products.

You can find other money saving tips in our free online guide, "Smart moves for tight-times." If you've had a recent experience buying refurbished electronics—good or bad—let us know.

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Electronics News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more