To refurb or not to refurb

By Mir
June 18, 2007

KLO wrote in with a great question:


Believe it or not, I have never made a purchase from Amazon. I’m a bit of a freak about buying online.

I’m curious if you would discuss “refurbished.” Have you purchased anything refurbished? Is it better to buy new?

First of all, can I just say that I’m not really sure how I functioned before the advent of Amazon? Seriously. Did I used to run to the store for all that stuff? I can’t even imagine it.

Now, as for the refurb issue. This is one of my very favorites.

Have I bought refurbished? Absolutely. Going refurb can be a great way to save money without sacrificing quality. The trick is to assess several key points before buying.

Who refurbished it? In general I believe refurbished items from large manufacturers to be even more reliable, odds-on, than items which are new. They’re subjected to more rigorous testing, because they’re known to have issues. I say yes to manufacturer-refurbished. Third party refurbished is another story, and in general I’d caution you to be leery. A third party doesn’t have their production name to protect, and their work may not be as good as that done by the manufacturer. Just saying.

Who’s selling it? Again, your refurb item might be just fine, but still—this is one of those purchases that comes with slightly higher odds of needing customer service. That means you want to purchase from a seller whose reputation you trust and whose customer service will, you feel, stand behind their sales. For all of the craziness that often happens with Amazon with orders being canceled when there are really good deals (“Oops! Computer glitch! Sorry!”), I still believe they have pretty awesome customer service. If you’re going to buy online, they’re one of the best to deal with. Some of the other stores I promote here (Overstock and SmartBargains come to mind) have fabulous deals but simply do not have the customer service to support it.

What are the terms? You will often come across a refurbished item listed as “As is, final sale.” Walk away. That doesn’t inspire any confidence in me that this item is in working order. “Refurb” shouldn’t mean “possibly broken but you’ll take it and you’ll like it.” Even refurbished items should come with a warranty.

What is it? Would you buy a refurbished vacuum? How about a refurbished toaster? What about a refurbished computer? You have to give some thought to the item itself, and what might be involved in refurbishing it. For what it’s worth, I would buy (actually, I have bought) a refurbished desktop computer. But I wouldn’t buy a refurbished laptop, because it has greater potential for traumatic injury and the pieces are smaller and more expensive. I’m not saying I’m right, I’m just saying that’s how I reason through that process: I feel confident about a refurb desktop, but not about a refurb laptop.

Also consider which items are likely to be sold back or traded up, and to still be in good working order when the manufacturer receives them. Things like digital cameras fall into this category. “Refurbished” in that case often just means inspected, polished up, and ready to go; it was never broken and it’s still fine.

Talk to people and read reviews. As with any purchase, do your research. I have no qualms about pointing everyone to the refurbished Roombas and Scoobas at Amazon practically every week, because I bought a refurb Roomba and it arrived broken. Huh? Why recommend that? Well, I recommend because iRobot (the parent company) immediately replaced my damaged refurb with a brand new item. Now that is customer service and they’ve won my patronage for life. Find out how people feel about both the refurbished item and the distributor, before purchasing.

I hope that helps you venture into the world of refurbished items, KLO. It may take a little extra thought to make the most of these sorts of purchases, but you’ll be glad you did.


  1. I buy refurbished from brands I already trust and stores I have faith in their customer service (just as you mentioned).

    Stores I will buy refurbished from: Amazon, Sears, etc..

    Brands I buy refurbished: Cuisanart, Kenmore, Craftsman, KitchenAid

    I have never been left in a lurch by any of these purchases. I HAVE had trouble with refurbished from Overstock. Their customer service is the worst ever.

  2. I agree completely. Well, with one exception.

    Apple’s refurbished laptops come with the same 1 year warranty as their new computers. Many of the “refurbs” are computers that were store displays or other stuff. But with the 1 year complete warranty plus optional extended warranty, it’s a great deal. They also have awesome customer service, and you can get most service done at your local mall, if the idea of mailing your computer off for service leaves you twitching.

  3. Apple all the way. Last year for Christmas, I bought my son a refurbished ipod Nano at a very significantly reduced price. Unfortunately, it had issues right out of the box, but Apple customer service was fabulous. I sent it back to them (at their cost) and they sent me another one, which worked fine. I even let my kids buy their dad a refurbished ipod Shuffle for Father’s Day – only $49, which is a great price. I have also been lusting after a refurbished scooba, but have thus far resisted the siren call. However, I don;t know how much longer I can hold on…

  4. I ordered a refurbished Cuisinart blender from Overstock a few weeks back – at more than 50% off the retail price. It was packaged like it was a brand new product, and it works just fine. Makes me think perhaps it was just a return.

  5. Even if I don’t buy an item (refurbished or not) on Amazon, I usually swing by and read several pages of reviews on the item I’m considering. If many people have the same problem with a particular part or malfunction, that makes me more leery. But if the only negative reviews are from techno-impaired doofusi that couldn’t figure out how to operate the thing, then I feel pretty good about buying it anyway.

    I love Amazon’s reviews.

  6. We’ve had great success with the refurbished Dyson we bought from Amazon last year (Friday sale from Mir, of course!).

  7. Personally, I have a hard time buying refurbished gear if the warranty isn’t the same as for a new, non-refurbished one. Why? Refurbs are often marked down only 10-20%. Even a $40 savings is made moot if the item dies at day 91 of a 90 day warranty.

    The fact that the manufacturer isn’t willing to put a full warranty on an item reveals how strongly they feel about the “good as new” rating they put on a refurb. Apple refurbs, OK! Olympus refurbs, no way!

  8. Just a word of warning? Canon refurbished digital cameras are not a good idea. And NEVER do the Canon “Loyalty Program”. You’ll pay $100 for a refurbished version of the camera that died, and then they will keep dying on you until you have gotten 5 of them and when that one dies you finally throw your hands in the air and give up on the $100 and just go buy a different brand of camera.

    Otherwise I think refurbished stuff is great. I worked for Bose for a while and their “factory renewed” stuff works great. It’s not at much of a discount because it IS so nice, though. But if you’re already going to be buying something there, new stuff isn’t necessary IME.

  9. I have a great refurbished Electrolux vacuum from It’s been working very well for a year now. I would just check the reputation of the company you are buying from.

  10. Wow – I loved reading these comments. I’ve never bought anything refurb’d and this gives me lots of useful information. Thanks for posting this, Mir!

    And fuzzy, thanks for giving us the plural of “doofus.” I never knew it was “doofusi.” That’s going into my repertoire!

  11. Thank you!

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