A Guide to Refurbished Tech

Find out exactly what refurbished means, where you can buy refurbished devices, and see how buying refurbished tech can save you money on your next purchase.

A refurbished Android smartphone sitting on the corner of a refurbished macbook
(Image credit: Unsplash - Kenny Leys)

Refurbished devices have taken the tech industry by storm, with their sale and purchase becoming increasingly popular the world over. Buying refurbished has many benefits for both consumers and the tech industry. Their sale helps the environment by reducing the production of electronic waste & consumption of materials.

It also reduces the effects of seasonal purchasing, which tends to occur whenever a newer model is released. This trend has quickly become the norm in the modern tech industry and further contributes to waste production & resource depletion. However, the biggest draw when you buy refurbished devices is the significant savings on brand-new gadgets.

The UK is no stranger to buying refurbished technology. Millions of Brits consider buying refurbished smartphones, with affordability and sustainability being the biggest factors. Many of the country’s largest consumer advice publications have written detailed articles on the topic too: one quick Google and you’ll find the likes of Money Saving Expert telling readers how to shop for refurbished phones or Which? Offering tips for buying refurbished laptops.

So what does buying a refurbished device mean? We’ll break down which devices are sold by different retailers, and the best ways to save money when you buy refurbished.

What does refurbished mean?

If a device is marked as refurbished, that means it’s a second-hand device that’s undergone restoration or repairs. Depending on the state of the device, the scale of the work carried out can vary from minor cosmetic touch-ups to total parts replacement & repairs. 

To make matters even more complicated, the definition of refurbished varies considerably depending on who you ask. Some retailers will only sell devices they class as ‘Like New’ under the refurbished moniker. Others, like Apple, include open-box returns under the same label. This means customers can buy brand-new devices for lower prices simply because they’re in damaged packaging.

We’ve also seen discontinued lines come under the ‘refurbished’ umbrella. Discontinued devices are models that aren’t being produced or supported by the manufacturer, but are technically as good as new. Some of the world’s largest retailers have gotten on board with this idea. Amazon sells refurbished devices through two separate refurbished device sites, with customer returns sold through Amazon Warehouse, and unused but discontinued models sold separately through Amazon Refurb.

This muddies the waters even further. As some retailers such as Currys simply consign discontinued stock to clearance sections or outlets. Although it used to refer to second-hand devices that have undergone a few repairs, the term ‘refurbished’ can refer to all kinds of tech. It covers both unboxed returns and previously broken gadgets that have been restored to working condition. As such, the level of quality, functionality and wear you can expect from them will vary on a retailer-by-retailer basis.

A refurbished Samsung smartphone sitting on top of its box

(Image credit: samsung)

What devices can you buy refurbished?

Thanks to the widespread popularity of buying refurbished, you’ll find tons of the world’s most-loved gadgets for sale in pre-loved condition. This includes smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs, and TVs. You can take your pick of devices on Android, iOS, Windows, and Apple operating systems, making refurbished a great option if you're buying a smartphone on a budget. It also includes products from major brands like SamsungDell, Apple, Lenovo and every brand in between. 

There are many generalist retailers, such as John Lewis, Currys & Amazon who can sell you the likes of a refurbished iPhone, iPad or Macbook, but you’ll also find others who deal primarily with specialist equipment like cameras and audio equipment, such as MPB & Fujifilm. There are even markets for refurbished home appliances like washing machines, fridge freezers & dishwashers. Although these haven’t quite achieved the same level of popularity as refurbished phones, laptops and smart devices.

Are refurbished devices good?

The quality you get when you buy refurbished varies, more so than when you buy new devices. To accurately assess whether or not you’re getting a good deal, you’ll need to consider a number of factors, including where you’re buying from, what devices you’re buying, and what condition you’re buying them in.

Refurbished Grades

Condition is best assessed by a device’s grade. Refurbished devices are given grades. These tell consumers how ‘Like New’ a device is so they know what level of quality they can expect. Grades generally range between Grade A and C, with each letter denoting a certain condition:

  • Grade A Refurbished: – The device has no signs of cosmetic damage and performed as well as a new device upon testing. The best you can get.
  • Grade B Refurbished: – Minor signs of cosmetic damage and/or performance just shy of ‘Like New’ devices. Generally only differs from Grade A in terms of visible but minor damage, such as scuffs or scratches.
  • Grade C Refurbished: – Noticeable cosmetic damage or functional issues, such as less-than-ideal battery health, screen irregularities, or heavy dents or scratches on the casing.

A dell laptop sitting open on a table

(Image credit: dell)

Occasionally, you’ll also see Grade D devices. Grade D means that a device is damaged or dysfunctional. Realistically, these are best for stripping for parts. These items are usually sold to tech companies who reuse their parts for repairs. 

It’s important to note that refurbished devices have no standardised grading system. You’ll need to watch out for slightly different systems from seller to seller. Some retailers will use numbers in conjunction with letters to mark different grades. For example, Laptops Direct use the following grades for refurbished devices:

  • A1, or ‘As New’
  • A2, or ‘Slight Cosmetic Damage’
  • A3, or ‘Cosmetic Damage’

What do these grades mean?

A higher number or earlier letter grade generally means a better quality device, with C being lower than A, and or A3 being lower than A1. Other retailers adopt less formal but somewhat arbitrary grading, such as ‘Good’, ‘Average’ and ‘Poor’. Whichever system retailers use, make sure to check how they define each grade before you buy. As the grade gets lower, you should expect to see lower prices to reflect the poorer condition. 

On most sites, you will either find a dedicated page that explains each grade’s criteria. Occasionally, you can get a link or popup window on each product page that tells you about that item’s condition. For example, the Dell Outlet shows a question mark icon next to the grade of refurbished items. You can click this to read more about what that means for an item’s condition.

Are refurbished devices always cheaper?

Just like when buying new devices, older models that have been refurbished will be cheaper than new ones, as tech quickly depreciates in value. However, although you’d expect devices that aren’t new to sell at a lower price, that isn’t always the case. Some businesses sell ‘Like New’ devices for the same price as brand new ones, only giving discounts on those with noticeable signs of wear. There are also retailers who focus their business on refurbished devices. They’ll sell repaired models at close to or even slightly more than the RRP in order to cover the cost of repairs.

It’s always best to shop around when buying refurbished devices. When you see a device you’d like to buy, check how much both major retailers and smaller stores sell them for new, and then compare these prices to refurbished options. You’re also better off shopping for refurbished devices at specific times of year, depending on the device you’re looking for. 

Models from a certain brand typically get cheaper when newer models are released or announced. People go for an upgrade, and fresh supplies of older devices are traded in ready for refurbishing. Keep an eye out for price drops around annual brand events like Apple’s announcements, which are usually in September. There’s also the yearly Samsung event, which tends to take place towards the end of January or the start of February. 

Where can I buy refurbished tech?

There is now a huge global market for refurbished tech. You’ll find second-hand gadgets on offer directly from big tech brands like Apple, Dell, & Lenovo. You’ll find the same at popular multi-channel or tech-specific stores, specialist retailers who focus on particular devices, and hundreds of companies who deal primarily or entirely in ‘re-commerce’.

Depending on the type of refurbished device you’re after, you’ll have a few different avenues you can turn to. Multi-channel retailers like Amazon and John Lewis sell many of the most common devices like smartphones, laptops & tablets in dedicated refurbished sections, as do tech-focused stores like Currys and AO. You can also turn to companies whose main focus is second-hand tech. Retailers like Music Magpie stock and trade many of the most commonly-refurbished gadgets.

If you’re looking for devices made by specific brands, you’ll be able to find them with general retailers. You can also shop directly with the brand. Turning to the likes of HPSamsungPhilips, and Bose for exclusive manufacturer perks such as extended warranties, free returns or delivery, or even better discounts. When it comes to newer models such as the iPhone 14, the brands that manufacture them are likely to refurbish them first. This can be handy if you want to get your hands on a more modern handset.

An Android smartphone in someone's hand

(Image credit: smartphone)

Similarly, you can buy refurbished smartphones or tablets directly from brands such as Samsung or Apple, or you can turn to popular phone stores such as Carphone Warehouse or iD Mobile which sell a range of makes & models and offers options for both unlocked handsets and the latest devices on various mobile contracts. Major networks like EEVodafone, and O2 also have dedicated refurbished device sections where you can find both unlocked and SIM-only or contract devices for sale, although you’ll only be able to choose from plans on their network.

The same is true for refurbished laptops. With brands like DellHP & Lenovo all boasting refurbished devices on their site, you can search for specific models of theirs. Then you can benefit from longer warranties, exclusive discounts or free returns or delivery. You can also shop with dedicated laptop retailers such as Laptops Direct. They focus on one type of device but a bunch of brands. That way you can compare competitors.

Although less popular than refurbished smart devices, you can still buy restored & repaired home appliances like fridges, ovens, and washing machines. There are also a host of retailers who sell specialist or niche equipment. For example, you can buy refurbished cameras from the likes of Fujifilm & MPB. They use grading systems that are more inclusive of device-specific specifications such as shutter speed & lens quality. 

Many of these retailers also offer trade-in services, which let you hand in your old devices to be added to their refurbished stock in exchange for discounts on future purchases. This is a great way to get money back if you have old devices hanging around - we've written a guide to saving money by recycling tech if you want to find out more. Depending on the retailer, it varies whether you get money back as reward points, store credit or cash. For example, Currys offer a voucher code you can redeem on your next purchase as part of their trade-in scheme, whilst Music Magpie’s main USP is the fact they offer to pay in cash.

What should I look for when buying refurbished devices?

Whatever the device, brand, operating system or seller, there’s a few things to look out for when shopping refurbished. Here are our top tips for getting the best deals when buying restored tech.

Look up your specifications

As with any tech purchase, it’s important to know the different specifications of the device you’re after. That way you’ll know how it will affect prices and whether you’re getting a good deal. Features like larger internal storage capacity, faster processors and better cameras will drive prices up. On the flip side, certain older or impaired features will drive prices down, so doing your research is key.

With mobile devices such as smartphones & tablets, battery health, audio, camera condition and the state of the screen are most important. If a device has a damaged screen, for example, this may be mentioned in the item description. If this is the case, you should expect to see a lower price as a result. When you’ve received your device, you can test each of these elements. Check the settings, record a voice note, take a photo of a piece of paper, and view a blank page. 

You’ll also want to consider other specs like processing capacity, internal storage, and connectivity features such as headphone ports & Bluetooth. These will drive the price down when they’re broken or missing. Many of these features will also apply to laptops & PCs. With these devices, more weight is given to processors (e.g. i3 versus i5 processors), internal storage options (e.g. size & choice of hard-drive or solid-state drive), battery life and graphics cards.

If you’re looking for more specialist equipment, other device-specific features come into play. For cameras, you’ll want to consider things like lenses, external storage options like SD cards, and grip quality. For audio equipment, you’ll place more emphasis on audio quality, speaker location, and connectivity features such as aux & other inputs.

It’s also worth considering how recent a model you’re looking for and how this interacts with device condition. Newer models are almost always more expensive than older ones. Often because they sport added or improved features, so an older device in the same condition as its newer counterpart may work out significantly cheaper. For example, a Grade A or ‘Like New’ iPhone 11 may be cheaper than a Grade B iPhone 13. Consider whether you need the latest features, or if an older model has good enough specs to meet your needs.

Know your refurbished grades

As we mentioned earlier, retailers assign grades to different refurbished devices to signify the items condition. These systems can be alphabetical, numerical, a mix of the two. They vary from retailer to retailer. Check how each retailer defines their grades on the product page or a dedicated refurbished grades page.

You should be able to find out what repairs were needed, how much cosmetic damage is visible, and if there were any signs of reduced performance during testing for each grade. Be wary of any sellers that give vague or unclear descriptions. You should also be able to find information on how devices are tested. Occasionally you can get information on who restored & tested the device too. This can help you determine the quality you can expect from your purchase. For example, refurbished Apple gadgets are restored by the same team who carry out repairs in-store at the Genius bar. This means the quality you’ll get will match the repairs Apple carry out on a new device so you’ll get your money's worth.

Check your prices

Whenever you’re buying a refurbished device, you’ll want to check how much that model is selling for new. Check with major retailers, smaller sellers, and directly from the manufacturer. If you can find an RRP (recommended retail price), use this as a benchmark to measure against. Next, search for the same device offered refurbished, and keep a close eye on price differences between new items and refurbished ones of different grades.

Shopping around for the same device from different retailers will give you a better sense of where the best deals are. Some retailers might sell new devices at a low price compared to the RRP or other retailers, but hardly offer a saving on their refurbished stock, or even sell their ‘like-new’ stock for the same price. Meanwhile, other retailers might sell their new devices at a high price but offer more savings on different refurbished grades. This can nab you a significant discount if you’re happy to buy a device with minor cosmetic damage.

Avoid sold as seen

Many refurbished devices will come with a warranty which will cover you against technical faults or malfunction. This is vital when purchasing refurbished tech because by their nature they have been repaired from less-than-new condition. Avoid refurbished devices that are marked ‘sold as seen’. If you aren’t covered for a bad repair going wrong, you might not get your money’s worth from your device. You may end up forking out for a replacement in no time at all. 

Thankfully, most retailers understand this and tend to offer at least a year’s warranty on refurbished products. Then you can avoid gambling on an item that may or may not work because of a lower price tag. It’s always best to avoid any retailer that sells devices without some form of warranty. This brings into question the quality they’re offering. You should also shop around to see what kind of warranty different retailers offer. You might find the same deal on the same device with a warranty that covers you from faults for longer. 

Check the return policy

Like a warranty, a return policy protects you from ‘sold as seen’ scenarios. It gives you more peace of mind on your purchase. However, where warranties focus on technical faults, returns protect you from receiving your device, not getting what you expected, and ending up stuck with it. 

Returns policies give you a certain window to send goods back to the retailer if anything is wrong with them. You’re often able to choose either a refund or an exchange for a like-for-like product. You can send goods back for many reasons. If you’ve received the wrong product, your item has been damaged in transit, it’s faulty, or if you just don’t use it, you can return it. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you legally have a minimum of 14 days to return an item. Many retailers offer longer return periods lasting anywhere between 2 weeks to all the way up to 10 years.

Some retailers offer returns free of charge. Associated costs covered by the company via Freepost or the provision of collection or pre-paid returns labels. However, returns are not always free. Especially if you are ordering more expensive items that will need to be sent via insured delivery. As such, you should not only check the length & conditions of a return period before you make your purchase, but also check for any return fees. Where applicable, fees are usually either deducted from refund totals or charged to the debit or credit card used to make your purchase.

It’s not uncommon for there to be different length return periods for items depending on whether the item is faulty or damaged, or if you’re just unhappy with it. Some retailers also differentiate between the period in which you can request a refund and an exchange, meaning you’ll need to decide quickly if you’re considering asking for your money back. Be sure to check the specifics of an item’s return policy before you place your order so you know what to expect.

When returning, consider how long you’ll have to send an item back, and the cost. It’s not always worth buying a device for less from one retailer if you’ll have to pay a large sum to send it back should something go wrong, or if another retailer gives you more flexibility if you don’t get on with the device as well as you’d anticipated.

Refurbished devices: not so scary after all!

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider to get the best deal when buying refurbished devices. You’ll want to weigh up what device you’re looking for, what condition you’re buying it in, how much the same device sells for in different conditions & with different retailers, and the warranties & return policies each of those retailers offer. 

However, it doesn’t have to be a daunting task, and despite the multitude of factors at play, buying refurbished can be a great way to save money on your next tech purchase whilst also producing a smaller carbon footprint. If you stay open to different options on the market and keep the key factors in mind as you shop, you’ll maximise your chances of bagging a bargain. Just be warned – once you’ve seen the other side, you may love it so much you never want to buy new again.

Harry Bowden-Ford

I’m Harry, the tech editor, and I started working at MyVoucherCodes in March 2022. When I’m not writing about retailers, I spend my time listening to music and podcasts, playing guitar in a band and writing music reviews. I’m also a fan of long walks, reading new books, kicking back in front of the Xbox and discovering new places.