Pre-owned Products an Attractive Option for Tech Consumers and Manufacturers

By: Lee Rickwood

July 18, 2022

As consumer prices surge upward in Canada, the United States and around the world, as the amount of discarded electronics and global e-waste increases annually, an attractive alternative to chasing the latest and greatest gadgetry continues to gain favour with budget savvy, eco-sensitive shoppers.

When asked, roughly a quarter of Canadians say* they are more motivated to find new ways to make their dollars work harder and are more budget-conscious in general. Their shopping habits are changing, they say, for three main reasons: cost savings, being able to afford a better brand / higher-quality product and environmental sustainability.

So the buying and selling of pre-owned and refurbished gear can be seen a business unto itself, with multiple online and storefront options for used consumer digital technology. Gazelle and Declutter are among the popular online sites where you can buy and sell used electronics; large retail outlets like Best Buy and Staples have trade-in programs, and storefront operations like the international non-profit Free Geek (with Canadian outlets in cities like Vancouver and Toronto) provides pre-owned electronics and customer support.

(There’s even a company in China that has robots checking used gear, and kiosks where the refurbished goods are sold. ATRenew is an automated robotic system for inspecting pre-owned electronics and mobile phones. It uses video imaging and x-ray capabilities to visually inspect products, it has a mechanical arm to push buttons, and its consumer-facing kiosks will both evaluate used and sell refurbished products on their own!)

One of the many benefits offered by new refurbished electronics businesses is the fact the so-called old gear comes with many of the same assurances that new products have, including a “like-new” quality guarantee backed by the manufacturer and a free two-year warranty.

tablet computers with touch screens and stylus

eBay Refurbished is offering officially “Certified Refurbished” products, including popular consumer electronics.

That’s the case at eBay Canada and its eBay Refurbished online destination where shoppers may discover deep discounts on quality refurbished items.

eBay launched a Certified Refurbished program last year and is building on the original program by offering multiple standardized condition grades, different warranty plans and a wider range of price points.

According to a Leger survey commissioned by eBay Canada that identifies new Canadian shopping habits, 40 per cent of us have purchased a refurbished item in the past, and 70 per cent would consider buying refurbished in the future if it came with the same assurances as buying brand new. In fact, more Canadians surveyed would rather buy a refurbished product from a top brand with a warranty versus a new product from a lesser brand with a warranty (47 vs. 36 per cent).

“We are fundamentally changing the way Canadians shop refurbished products by guaranteeing that eBay Refurbished products look, feel and work like new,” Robert Bigler, General Manager of eBay Canada, described in a statement. “eBay has been successfully selling products in all conditions for twenty-five years, so when you think about a company that can redefine the refurbished shopping experience to not only meet, but exceed consumer expectations, it’s eBay.”

At launch, the business features categories such as laptops, portable audio gear and small kitchen appliances from participating brands including Apple, Dell, De’Longhi, HP, JBL, and Lenovo. The program also includes exclusive partnerships with brands such as Bose.

eBay Refurbished the inventory is sourced directly from premium brands or top-rated sellers, and comes with a one- or two-year warranty.

eBay Canada’s Head of Refurbished, Karthik Rajendran, shared some general observations about pre-owned products and some specifics about the eBay program with WhatsYourTech.ca in an e-mail exchange.

smartphone front side and back

eBay Canada says it will expand its refurbished offerings to include new product categories and brand partnerships.

Noting the growing popularity of refurbished, he nevertheless cautioned that [t]here are many different sellers of refurbished products, including unauthorized resellers, liquidators and even flippers. “Don’t assume that all refurbished products on the market are the same, even if they are from the same brands. There are different condition grades for products,” he added, that can impact a shopper’s decision about purchase and price.

In addition to refurbished products direct from the manufacturer, eBay offers multiple standardized condition grades, like Certified Refurbished, Excellent, Very Good, or Good condition products with more savings, while still getting a quality product from its vetted and trusted sellers.

Shoppers benefit, but so too, manufacturers, who ultimately are the main source of refurbished inventory, receiving products that are returned to manufacturers from various retailers.

(A lot of the products are returned because of “buyer’s remorse”, Rajendran noted, so there may be nothing actually wrong with the product itself. Instead, there may be damage to the packaging or it may be missing an accessory, component, or even a user manual, so it can no longer be considered “new”.  Some of the products may have superficial damage, while others may be faulty.)

By selling refurbished products directly to consumers through a name as familiar as eBay means the seller has more control over their inventory and more ability to protect their brand. They want to avoid situations where lower quality, improperly functioning or even harmful or dangerous products end up on the market through liquidation channels that can negatively impact a brand’s integrity.

Manufacturers also gain access to new customers who may not be able to afford to pay the “new” price tags for products from the brands they’ve come to trust, so like-new products become a new revenue stream for the manufacturers.

As industry, governments and consumers seek to tackle the problem of electronic waste and rising prices, refurbishing and reusing pre-owned products is an option to carefully consider.

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piles of electronic waste, consumer electronics

A record 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019, up 21 per cent in just five years, according to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020. The new report also predicts global e-waste – discarded products with a battery or plug – will reach 74 million tonnes by 2030, almost a doubling of e-waste in just 16 years.

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*An online survey of 1501 Canadians was completed between February 5 and 11, 2021, using Leger’s online panel.

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