Saving Money With Used Electronics

Kind Coupons focuses a lot on saving money by leveraging coupons (obviously), but another way to potentially save a lot of cash is by buying used electronics. I’ve always been a bit leery of buying used items (especially electronics) online because it’s often tough to know what you’re actually getting until the item arrives at your door. Often times a seller’s idea of “mint condition” isn’t the same as yours and you end up feeling like you should have spent a little more and gotten a brand new one.

The used electronics market has really started to take off and major brands (like Apple & Best Buy) are venturing into the space with buyback programs and “certified refurbished” product offerings. Aside from the big boys, smaller startups like Gazelle have popped up which focus exclusively on used phones, tablets, and computers. Gazelle actually plays on both sides of the market and will buy back your used electronics as well as sell you a “certified pre-owned” device.

Recently, my wife and I decided it was time to put my fear of used electronics aside and buy a used iPad. Well, truthfully, our kids forced my hand on this one. Our kids have been asking for an iPad for a while because both of their grandparents have them and they really enjoy the devices. They actually do play with some legit apps that help them identify shapes, learn letters, and read, so we thought it would be a good purchase (vs. an Xbox or a Wii which I’m not ready to dive into yet…story for another day).

Before deciding to buy a used iPad, I actually did check out the new ones (being a technophile and all). Well, the new iPad prices ($449 for a 32GB iPad Air at the time) quickly made me think again about buying used. Given that this iPad is for my kids, buying used actually made a lot of sense for the following reasons:

  • The kids don’t need the latest processor & retina screen
  • The kids don’t need a lightweight, ultra-thin iPad Air or a tiny iPad Mini
  • It’s very likely that the iPad will get knocked around
  • We didn’t have a ton of extra cash around for a $450+ new iPad

So, given the factors above, we decided than an older iPad 2 would be a great first tablet for the family. It’s big enough for their small hands, still has enough processing power to handle their favorite apps and movies, and, although $200+ is certainly a lot of money, it would hurt a lot less than $450 if the iPad happens to get broken.

The Search
Before actually buying the iPad, I looked at a variety of sites to get a feel for prices, seller reviews, item conditions, and any guarantees (i.e. “certified” devices). Here are my thoughts/opinions on some of the sites I looked at:

  • Apple.com
    • Pros:
      • All refurbished iPads are tested and “certified” (meaning: everything is verified as being fully-functional on the device)
      • iPads come with a brand new battery & a new “outer shell”
      • 1-year warranty included on all refurbished iPads
      • Trusted seller (these come directly from Apple and not a 3rd party)
    • Cons:
      • Price: just like a “certified pre-owned car,” you’re going to pay a premium for a certified refurbished iPad that someone has taken the time to test and provide an extra warranty with.  When I was shopping around, Apple certified refurbished iPads were about $100 more expensive than other places.
  • Gazelle.com
    • Pros:
      • Certified devices (i.e. they pass a 30-point inspection of all functions)
      • 30-day risk-free returns
      • Legit company:  I actually know some people that work at Gazelle, so in my mind it’s a lot more trusted than some of the random sites that popped up in Google when searching for “used ipad.”
      • Competitive prices: they were ~$75 cheaper than Apple.com when I was shopping around.
    • Cons:
      • Limited availability. I wanted an iPad 2 that was in “like new” condition, but unfortunately Gazelle was out of stock (or I would have bought here).
      • “Certified Good” made me a little nervous. They offer “certified like new” and “certified good” iPads. “Certified Good” supposedly has scuffs & scratches on the side or back. Since you don’t see a pic of the actual one you’re buying, I decided to pass on the “certified good” (which is all they had available).
  • GameStop.com
    • Pros:
      • Pre-owned guarantee (items are guaranteed to be fully-functional)
      • Prices were competitive (~$75-$100 less than Apple.com refurbished…depending upon condition)
    • Cons:
      • Only a 7-day window to return the device if it’s not working properly (pretty short “guarantee” IMO)
      • Some of the cheaper items are “scratch & scuff” items which are hard to tell what you’re actually getting until it arrives.
      • Overall, the condition of the items were hard to get a feel for. Some were identified specifically as “scratch & scuff,” but most just said “pre-owned” (without any comments on condition such as: “like new,” “good,” or “thrashed”).
      • Some items can be picked up in-store, but it’s more expensive (~$50 more) to do that from what I saw.
      • Many of the items listed on their site were unavailable
  • ebay.com
    • Pros:
      • Cheap prices (if you’re willing to take on more risk w/ lesser-known sellers)
    • Cons:
      • Not a lot of “trusted” sellers who had the iPad 2 32GB model I was looking for. When I say “trusted,” I mean someone with 100+ great reviews. I’m a little reluctant to buy from sellers on ebay that only have a few reviews. There were a few big electronics sellers on ebay with good reviews, but the iPads they had weren’t in the condition I was looking for. Again, I was afraid of what a device with “minor scratches and scuffs” would actually look like when I received it.
      • Most items aren’t “certified” as being fully-functional so you’ll have to rely on condition and/or product description to know if there might be a problem
  • BestBuy.com
    • Pros:
      • Competitive prices
    • Cons:
      • Best Buy doesn’t actually sell most of the used iPads, so be careful here. At first glace, it looks like you’re buying directly from BestBuy, but they actually allow 3rd party sellers to sell things on BestBuy.com. Many of the 3rd party sellers that I looked at here didn’t have the critical mass of excellent customer reviews I was looking for.
      • Condition of the items wasn’t very clear
  • Amazon.com
    • Pros:
      • Competitive prices (some of the lowest I found)
      • Some items are fulfilled by Amazon, so shipping will typically be fast & trackable here
      • Amazon A-to-Z guarantee applies to items bought from 3rd party sellers on Amazon
      • Many 3rd party sellers have lots of ratings due to Amazon’s volume. So, you can feel a bit more secure w/ your seller choice.
      • Item condition descriptions were more clear than other sites I viewed
      • Decent amount of inventory available
    • Cons:
      • Items are offered by 3rd party sellers. So, be sure to check the seller reviews & make sure you pick one who has good ratings (and not just the cheapest price)
      • Most items aren’t “certified” as being fully-functional so you’ll have to rely on condition and/or product description to know if there might be a problem

The Final Decision
So, after looking at way too many sites, I ultimately decided to purchase our used iPad from Amazon. Actually, Gazelle.com was my first choice, but unfortunately they were out of stock when I tried to order. On Amazon, I found the right mix of price, positive seller reviews, & a clear condition description to make me comfortable enough to buy. I ended up purchasing from an Amazon 3rd party seller that had 1,000 positive reviews in the previous 12 months, so I was pretty sure they were legit.

The Verdict
After placing my order on Amazon (with standard/free shipping), the iPad arrived in (literally) a day and a half. The item was described on Amazon as being in “like new” condition, and when it arrived, that’s exactly what it was. If I put this iPad in a white box with an Apple logo, you’d literally think it was brand new. There isn’t a single scratch or scuff anywhere on the exterior and the device OS itself was wiped clean (with no traces of a previous owner).

All in all, we saved close to $250 by buying a used iPad 2 (vs. purchasing the most current iPad version available). The kids love the iPad, my wife and I love it, and I’ve got a couple hundred extra bucks staying in my bank account. So, this was definitely a win that I’ll try to repeat again with similar items in the future.

Used iPad - Screen

Our new (err…used) iPad

Used iPad - Back

iPad from the back

 

Things to Keep in Mind When Buying Used Electronics
I’ll conclude with a few reminders to consider when buying used electronics online:

  • Carefully read the site’s “item condition” descriptions. One site’s definition of “good condition” may be different from another
  • Know who you’re buying from. Some big brands (like Best Buy & Amazon) allow 3rd party sellers on their platforms. Make sure you read seller reviews to ensure you’re buying from someone legit.
  • Don’t forget shipping costs. Some sites offer free shipping on used electronics while others don’t
  • Be realistic with the features you actually NEED. If you don’t need the latest technology, you can save a lot by buying an item that’s a couple of generations older than the current version.
  • Read the “guaranteed,” “certified,” “refurbished,” and “return” policies closely at each site. Some sites test items while other don’t. Some sites give you 30 days to return an item and others are “final sale.” Be sure you know what you’re buying into…buyer beware!

Have you ever saved money by buying used electronics online? If so, please share your experiences (and any tips) in the comments.

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