When shopping for anything, be it a car, a house, computer, or even headphones, you want to make sure you’re getting a good deal. The last thing you want to do is find out a day or two later that you paid way too much for your purchase. As price is a main determining factor on pretty much anything today, retailers are marketing ads directed to consumers with slashed prices on items – but did you read the fine print? It’s fair to say that any item discounted beyond 25% is either refurbished or severely old stock that a retailer is trying to get rid of (also known as reclassed merchandise). But when it comes to headphones, is a refurbished item okay to purchase?
All products on the market today are either new or used items, however within each, are several distinct categories. How these categories are explained or marketed differ and it’s very important to read the fine print to see what in fact you’re actually getting. In many cases a product that you might think or believe to be a new item, is actually a used, previously broken and repaired device and it may or may not have any kind of warranty. As the end consumer, it’s important to educate yourself on this, for if you end up buying a certain type of device, if it’s defective you might be completely out of luck – then how good is that ‘deal’ you got?
New in Box (NIB): This is an item that is still sealed and in the box. The packaging has never been opened and product has never been used. It’s fresh off the assembly line and covered by both the retailers and manufacturers warranty.
Open-Box: An item listed as an “open box” means the packaging is no longer sealed. There is no guarantee the item has been removed, or previously used. As such, you need to inquire if the item was previously used, or if it’s new. Everything that should be in the box (manual, product, accessories) is all accounted for. If you’re looking for the best deal possible, these products fit the bill as not only will they be discounted in price, they’ll also be covered by the full manufacturer’s warranty as well as the retailers warranty. Some retailers may only give you 30 days warranty on an open-box, so it’s important to check with the retailer on this.
Demo: This item is self-explanatory – it’s a product that was previously on display and other customers had the ability to try it out before they bought it. In the case of headphones, it means they’ve been worn by many people and have had the volume cranked up on the headphones to determine sound levels and quality. Demo products are similar to an Open-Box, but may or may not contain any packaging material, product manual, or additional accessories. They will be covered by the full manufacturer’s warranty, but will either have no retail warranty, or a very limited on. When buying a demo model, you really want to check it out and make sure there’s nothing wrong with it, including nicks, dings, or cracks in the headband and ear cups. You also want to be certain the speakers work and have not been blown due to excessive volume levels.
Reclass: This is a term often used in the clothing industry, but any retailer should know exactly what you’re talking about. A reclass item is something that is old and no longer wanted by the public. A good example would be a Boxing Day Sale, or a Sidewalk Sale where retailers fill the paper with deals that are just too good to true. This happens all the time with televisions! Who wouldn’t want a 55″ OLED TV right? Well, if you only read 55″ LED TV, then you’re sorrily mistaken. OLED was a technology that came out in 2003 and lots of retailers and manufacturers still have a LOT of leftover stock kicking around in the back shelves they need to get rid of. Sure these items are NIB, but they’re so old most people wouldn’t want them. They’re used a gimmick to get you into the store, so you can be up-sold (think bait and switch) to a newer model and therefor spending even MORE of your money.
Pre-owned: Just like with new Open Box items, this product has actually been used by a previous customer and returned. Reputable stores will tell you if the product is a returned item (open box) or if the packaging was just opened and it’s a new Open Box item. Employees have confirmed that everything is in the retail packaging that should be there, so this is like buying a new item, however it’s been used. Similar care should be taken to ensure the product doesn’t have any issues. I remember purchasing an Open Box pair of headphones and I hadn’t inquired or read the fine-print that the product was previously used. I didn’t inspect it either, as I thought I was just getting a deal. What happened? Upon opening up the packaging, I immediately noticed that the velour material on the ear cups (the part that touches my ears/skin) was discolored from someone else’ sweat. They even smelled like sweat! There was grease/oil from someone’s hair/scalp all over the headband. I was so grossed out, that I put the product back in the bag and returned it immediately. Perhaps had I known what I was actually getting, I wouldn’t have been so offended. It’s also important to note that if a product is listed as pre-owned, that you should definitely inquire if the item was broken and repaired (refurbished), or if it’s just a return. This is what I consider the ‘grey area’ for retail sales, as a pre-owned product could mean different things to different retailers. Pre-owned products come with different warranties or may/may not be covered at all, so you need to inquire on this. Some pre-owned products have already been registered by the original owner, then returned and when you try to register your product with the manufacturer, you can’t and end up dealing with the manufacturer for hours on end trying to resolve the situations. Surprisingly, this is very common with Apple iPhones.
Certified: This term is usually associated with two parts, such as Certified Pre-owned, or Certified Refurbished. For a product to be labeled as certified, means that the item has been properly tested by a service professional. In the case of a Certified Refurbished item, it means the product was repaired and then tested to be in good working order.
Refurbished: If you’re looking for the cheapest price on a product, then you’ll find it with a refurbished item. A refurbished product is one that was broken and not working/defective, but has been repaired by a service professional and put back into working order. For an item to be refurbished, it means the product broke within the retailer or manufacturer’s warranty. The original customer either wanted their money back, or exchanged the item for a replacement. When you buy an item from any store, take it home and it’s defective and you bring it back, the store takes the item back and their exchange department ships all of these defective items back to the manufacturer.
Within this category of Refurbished, you will need to pay very close attention. If an item has been refurbished by the manufacturer, then it has been repaired by a manufacturer certified technician and the defective items were replaced with items made by the manufacturer. An example would be if you had a pair of Sony headphones that were refurbished by the manufacturer would all be Sony products. You wouldn’t find any “knock-off” products being used.
If on the other hand you’re buying a refurbished item and it doesn’t say if it was refurbished by the manufacturer, then it’s highly likely that the product was repaired with non-manufacturer parts. What normally happens here is someone has some knowledge of how to repair electronics. They could be a certified repair technician, but they don’t work for a particular manufacturer. They buy broken devices that are not covered by a retailer or manufacturer’s warranty (e.g. they buy them on Craigslist, etc.) and fix them with generic parts. In the example above with the Sony headphones, these might be repaired with knock off parts made in Mexico, China, or Taiwan that are not made to the same quality control levels of the original manufacturer. So in the case where a speaker is blown in the ear cups, that Sony speaker might be replaced with a generic speaker. These types of refurbished products likely only come with a 30 to 90 day warranty and it’s only offered by the seller – they are not covered by the manufacturer at all. It never ceases to amaze me that people buy these non-manufacturer refurbished products on these knock-off/discount sites and then complain in the comments that their item never worked. Below is an image from Groupon where they’re selling Beats headphones at a ridiculous price, but when you read the fine print, you discover they’re refurbished and not by the manufacturer.
As you can see by this article, buying anything is really about “buyers beware” or actually educating yourself on your purchase, before you actually hand over your money. Yes there can be some great deals in electronics, especially headphones, but you need to read the fine print. I’d love to hear your experiences with refurbished headphones, as my experience wasn’t so positive.