Consumer Electronics: Brand New vs. Refurbished
Anthony Marsh – October 3, 2008
Should I buy that (insert electronics product of choice) new or used, a.k.a., refurbished? While this may not be one of the age-old questions on par with why are we here and what happens when we die?, it’s certainly moved quickly up the proverbial pecking order as our economy and finances have plummeted with equal velocity the opposite way. Like many of life’s questions, there are no quick, simple, or easy answers, but rather, there are many respective pros and cons that must be given equal weight in this debate.
As defined by Dictionary.com, new means: Of recent origin, production, purchase, etc.; fresh or unused.
It would be logical; if not downright simplistic to say that it’s always best to buy something brand new. After all, your hands are the first to have ever touched that TV or projector or computer, etc., you get the exclusive first sniff rights to inhale the very specific out-of-box aroma that comes with unpacking something for the very first time, and it doesn’t come with the stigma – however unfair it may be – that there was something “wrong” with it, causing it to be subsequently returned. Though ultimately trivial in the grand scheme of things, the above items are more than enough reason and justification to want to spend a few extra bucks for the expressed privilege of being the first one to enjoy the latest gadget or home electronics piece. Aside from just having the honors of being the “first” though, there are also more practical and substantial reasons for buying something brand new. For starters, it’s brand new and has no miles on it, so to speak. And with that clean slate comes the potential of being able to enjoy it a little longer than a refurb product. As well, you get to see and enjoy the product right from its infancy, and get a real feel for how it performs right out of the box without the hands of someone else having made any adjustments for you. Additionally, from a purely aesthetic POV, when you buy something brand new (assuming there are no factory manufacturing defects), it in fact looks brand new, meaning no subtle nicks or scratches or dents that you can sometimes find with a refurbished item. As well, buying new means you’re buying the latest and greatest of what technology currently has to offer, and we all know what a difference a year or two can make with respect to the progress and technological advancements of various products. A year in home and consumer electronics is not unlike a dog year, where one is actually seven. Above all else, when you buy new, you also get the original manufacturers warranty which protects you against any issues you may encounter with your product. This is pure Peace of Mind 101 because it helps guarantee that your investment will be well protected now, and in the foreseeable future, and that you haven’t possibly thrown your money down the drain to save a few bucks in the short term..
If there are any cons to buying something brand-spanking new, that list is pretty limited, but the reasons themselves can be quite significant. The first one is price. When you buy new as opposed to refurbished, the price tag is always going to be higher, and depending how far along the used timeline your product is, the brand new version of it can be priced exceedingly higher. Plain and simple: if you have a certain budget and buying something brand new exceeds it, you’re then confronted with a few options. The first is you dig in your heels, gnash your teeth, take the financial hit (and prepare to dine on whole lot of macaroni and cheese), and buy new. The second is you maintain your budget and buy the refurb version. The third is you go for another brand altogether that’s priced more within the limits of your budget so you can buy new. And finally, the fourth is you scrap the purchase outright until you’ve managed to save enough pennies to spring for that brand new item you really really want. Another con is the misconception that buying something brand new guarantees it will work like a charm, always and forever. While it very well could and should, that’s what thousands of other people thought when they initially decided to buy brand new. Then that very same item turned into a lemon – minus the lemonade – on them, morphing into that discounted refurb item at your local retailer, hence completing the circle that connects new and used.
As defined by Dictionary.com, refurbished means: To make clean, bright, or fresh again; renovate.
When it comes to new and refurbished, quite simply, price is the difference, and it’s often times the difference maker when it comes to deciding what you’re going to buy. For those that want and need their brand name TV or projector or computer or audio receiver, and the cheaper – in terms of both price and performances – Asian version of some brand you’ve never heard of just won’t do (please refer to such vaunted names in electronics that include the likes of Changhong, Blaupunkt, and Sampo), buying refurb is the logical solution that will often satisfy both your wallet and your pride. Another benefit of buying refurbished is that once a particular product has been returned by a customer, and this can be for any number of reasons such as dissatisfaction with performance, product failure, or maybe someone just thought better of spending their money, the product is then put through a series of comprehensive testing (and possibly repairs) to assure that once it finds it place back on the shelf again, the second time will be a charm, and it will be in absolute peak operational form. As mentioned above, when you buy new, there’s no written-in-blood or etched-in-stone guarantee that it will work perfectly, because if they all did, there’d be no refurbished products on the shelves for sale. One small caveat here: if you’re going to buy an item that has been refurbished, make sure you do so at a reputable electronics chain that will stand behind their products, as opposed to going to some small, fly-by-night, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere electronics shop you’re not familiar with. The goal here is to save a few bucks, and not save a few more bucks at the expense of buying something that doesn’t work, can’t be returned, and then becomes the most expensive boat anchor you’ve ever owned, even though you don’t actually own the boat to use it with.
With the good comes the bad, and in this respect, the one major con that can often times accompany a refurbished product is the warranty. That’s that ultra-important piece of paper that guarantees should your product go the way of the Titanic on its maiden voyage, you’re not left to drown and die as the band plays on. With refurb products, the cost-savings come at a price, and that’s usually in the form of a significantly reduced warranty that may cover you for 30, 60, or if you’re lucky, maybe 90 days, as opposed to buying new and having a one-year, two-year, or possibly three-year warranty for added comfort and security. Another prospective downside to buying refurb has as much to do with our own vanity and need to impress, as it does with the actual product and the way it performs. With refurbished gear, they can suffer from the odd external blemish that can be as insignificant as a small scuff or scratch, or maybe something a little more obvious like a dent or design glitch that happened during the manufacturing process. If placing that “scarred” and “marred” TV or projector clashes with the precious and perfect décor of your respective room, thus threatening to throw everything out of balance and ruin your otherwise feng shui-approved ambiance, then a warts-and-all refurbished product will not coincide very well with the demands of your lifestyle. Finally, with refurbished products, though not always the case, you can likely be buying technology that is a year or two old. This may mean that newer features or even general performance quality may not be on par with the more up-to-date versions, possibly rendering your desired usage intentions for said product to be a non-option.
As mentioned off the top, there are no snappy and straightforward answers as to whether you should buy that electronics product brand new or refurbished. Each has their respective pluses and minuses, and ultimately – like many things in life – the almighty dollar has a lot to more to say about it than our own personal preferences and opinions do. Whether new or used though, make sure you do your research, identify your needs, and be realistic about how much you can actually spend that won’t necessitate you having to sleep in your car, eating stale pretzels. These considerations will help guide you accordingly, so that whatever purchase you make, you can feel confident, sure, and secure that you’ve made the right one.