Open-box electronics items: Another shopping option to consider

Consumer Reports News: October 01, 2008 04:41 PM

This blog recently reported on refurbished electronics, returned items inspected and if need be repaired, and sold at reduced prices. We found them to be an opportunity for budget-conscious shoppers, with caveats.

Also worth considering are refurbs’ first cousins, “open-box” electronics items. They, too, can be significantly less expensive than the same items bought new—though they, too, merit some caution. 

Typically, open-box items are goods returned by customers, inspected by the retailer, found to be in working order, and re-sold at a discount, rather than returned to the manufacturer. Though most associated with taped-up boxes on tables and special displays at brick and mortar retailers, open-box electronics are now also offered online. Such Webtailers include such reputable vendors as JR.com and TigerDirect.com, both perennially well-rated in Consumer Reports’ annual Ratings of electronics retailers.  They’re also offered at WarehouseDeals.com, the refurbished and open-box goods site for Amazon.com, also a perennial pick among e-tailers in our surveys.

Unlike refurbished goods, open-box items are not typically repaired by the factory or a factory-authorized facility—the reason you generally won’t find open-box offerings on manufacturers’ retail sites. About the only fix usually performed by retailers is to erase from open-box computers any data entered by a user, with a restoration of the hard drive’s original configuration.

However, since only 5 per cent of retail returns are actually defective, by one estimate, chances are that an open-box item will work just fine and was returned for other reasons. Open-box electronics may, however, have dents, scratches, or other blemishes; some of the reputable sites detail such flaws. All accessories are typically present, though the manual may be missing; you can usually obtain it online as a PDF file.

Some stores and websites sell open-box items and many refurbs are sold “as is,’ with no returns or warranty. As with refurbished electronics, we’d think twice about such final-sale items.  However, returns are often allowed on the same basis as for new goods; that’s 30 days for WarehouseDeals.com, JR.com, and TigerDirect.com.

In addition, open-box items may be covered by the manufacturer’s new goods warranty. If the original customer of the item did not send in the warranty card and it’s in the box, as is sometimes the case, you can send it in to initiate the warranty. Even without such a card, your open-box item may be covered under the warranty anyway, though you may not easily be able to confirm such coverage with the manufacturer before you buy. Nonetheless, you should retain your sales receipt and try pursuing a claim in the event the item fails within the warranty period.

As with refurbs, then, it’s worth enduring the possible risks of “open-boxing” only if the savings are substantial—say, at least 20 percent over the same item bought new. Our reporter found that, while some open-box items were discounted very little from typical selling prices new at reputable retailers, others offered savings of up to 25 per cent or so. For example, a Samsung Blu-ray high-def DVD player that sold widely for about $350 was selling for $247 on WarehouseDeals.com.

But, as with any online purchases, be equally wary of discounts of 50 per cent or more from retailers you aren’t familiar with.

The bottom line? Don’t look to open-box items as a way to get a steal, necessarily, but more as a method to get decent savings on some items, perhaps enough to live with the slightly higher risk these items entail over buying new.


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