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How Refurbished Electronics Work

        Tech | Everyday Tech

Market for Refurbished Products
If you've ever visited a used car lot, you've shopped for refurbished products. Like used cars, used electronics have to be evaluated to make sure everything is in working order before it can be used again.
If you've ever visited a used car lot, you've shopped for refurbished products. Like used cars, used electronics have to be evaluated to make sure everything is in working order before it can be used again.
Erik Rank/Photonica/Getty Images

Refurbishing and selling electronic products back on the market can make an environmental impact, but it makes little difference if no one buys it. You've already discovered one of the biggest problems with refurbished products, the label itself. Think back to the last time you saw the term "used cars" at your local dealership. Has their signage been changed now, to "certified used cars," "pre-owned cars" or even "pre-loved cars?" One of the reasons you don't see more refurbished products in the spotlight is because people like the idea of buying something new.

The perception that there might be a problem with the product lasting a long time prevents many from taking a chance on a refurbished item. That's why refurbished merchandise sells for less.

But that's not the only problem with getting the items back on store shelves. Manufacturers have to figure out ways to get the products back to their warehouses and refurbish them in the first place. Those channels may be different from the main distribution channel. This process is called reverse logistics, as the products to be refurbished have to travel upstream to the manufacturer to be prepared for sale again.

Taking the items apart and reassembling them to work properly -- in a sellable condition -- means having experts available who can take the electronics apart, identify the problem, replace the offending parts and reassemble them. Expert help, of course, costs more than someone who will smash the items open with a sledgehammer. The cost of labor, transportation, replacement parts and repackaging and reshipping are all things a company has to consider when implementing its refurbishing program.

But when taking into account the costs of recycling defective materials, buying new ones and the cost of losing customers over a string of defective products, it can be in a company's best interest to bring used and broken electronics back to market in top-notch condition.

You don't have to be a computer expert to swap out a hard drive or add some more memory. And by doing so, you're refurbishing your own machine.
You don't have to be a computer expert to swap out a hard drive or add some more memory. And by doing so, you're refurbishing your own machine.
Eric Glenn/DK Stock/Getty Images

As the world starts to embrace recycling and learns about the environmental costs of dumping electronic waste and haphazard recycling techniques, more companies are feeling pressure from individuals and organizations to make their operations more environmentally friendly. Greenpeace is one industry watchdog, releasing its ranking on green electronics in 2006 [source: Greenpeace]. In its ranking, Nokia and Dell were the leaders, though their green credentials were still far away from the nonprofit's most positive rating.

But not all refurbishing has to be done by a manufacturer. Any time you upgrade a used piece of equipment yourself, you're refurbishing it. If your hard drive crashes (you back up your data regularly, right?) you may be able to install a new one, rather than buying a whole new machine. Or would you speed up your old machine if you added some new memory? Or a faster processor? You might be able to refurbish your old machine for less than the cost of buying a new one.

For more information on computers, electronics recycling and other related topics, visit the next page.