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.