Can you save money buying a refurbished phone?

Is a refurbished phone a way to get a like-new product at a second-hand price?

I really want a new smartphone (ideally one that hasn't been repeatedly dropped and thrown by my toddler, unlike my current model).

However, I don't much fancy tying into a contract, and buying a top-end handset without a contract can cost hundreds of pounds. Many of us are used to paying for our phones by taking on a lengthy contract so it’s almost easy to forget that you’re more than paying for the handset over that time.

But a brand new iPhone 5 actually costs well over £500 while a Samsung Galaxy S3 costs close to £400.

[Related link: Compare mobile phones]

I’ve often heard that refurbished electrical goods allow you to get the benefits of a factory-fresh phone for a much lower price. So could this be the best way to save?

What does refurbished mean?

You can buy refurbished goods from the manufacturer, or even through major retailer websites such as Currys and PC World.

The term ‘refurbished’ seems to cover quite a wide range. Some products may simply have been opened but then returned unused to the manufacturer. The company can’t sell these as new, even though they essentially are.

However, others may be returns or may have been sent back because they were defective. The manufacturer will usually clean these items, replace anything that’s defective and reissue any software needed. It will then run them through a quality control process before offering them for resale.

It’s worth checking what process each specific manufacturer puts its refurbished products through. For example, all Apple’s refurbished Macs meet its Finished Goods testing processes; meaning each one should meet the same high standard that a brand new item would. You also get a one year warranty.

Carphone Warehouse no longer sells refurbished phones, but says that when it did the majority were handsets that had been returned under its 14-day money-back guarantee.

However, not all manufacturers will have the same standards. If a faulty component has been repaired rather than replaced, it may be more likely to break a second time.

Some gadgets may look obviously used; they may have scuffs or scratches for example. So if you’re buying an electrical item like a phone because you love having a shiny new prestigious gadget, then this may not be the right path for you. Fortunately for my wallet, I have no such qualms!

Are there ever problems?

Before I looked at prices, I wanted to know how likely I am to have difficulties with a refurbished phone compared to a brand new one.

A search of the most popular techie forums did show people having difficulties with their refurbished products, but plenty of others had posted they have never had an issue with a refurbished gadget from a reputable company.

There are more complaints about brand-new handsets and other gadgets, although that’s to be expected as more new items are sold.

How much can you save?

A wide variety of electrical goods can be bought on the refurb market, from phones and laptops to games consoles and more.

Browsing the Apple website, I see that I can save up to 25% on some gadgets, equating to hundreds of pounds.

On the big retailer websites like Currys/PC World, it’s possible to save as much as £50 on PCs.

Most websites selling refurbished the iPhone 5 16GB are offering them at around the £400-£440 mark. That’s a potential saving of close to £100.
 
I was particularly interested to see that some mobile phone companies offer top-range phones with their mid-range contracts, as long as you are happy to accept a refurbished model.

For example, 3 offer a refurbished iPhone 4S with 1,000 minutes, 5,000 texts and unlimited data for £30 a month, compared to £40 a month for the same deal with a new handset.

A word of warning

While browsing the different refurbished gadgets for sale, I noticed that most have a different warranty or guarantee period to the retailers’ new items.

That’s to be expected, but make sure you know exactly what protection you have. And don’t ever be fobbed off with a faulty gadget just because it wasn’t brand new – the Sale of Goods Act means that your purchase must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose.

Where to buy refurbished goods

Many different companies sell refurbished gadgets through their websites but here are a few of the main contenders.

Currys has dedicated pages for refurbished computers, including laptops and tablets, and for TVs, or you can shop through its PC World website for the same deals.

Apple sells refurbished Macs, iPods and iPads and you can buy refurbished Dell laptops and desktops through its ‘outlet’ website.

Have you bought refurbished goods? What was your experience? Let the writer and readers know using the comments below.