What Are “Certified Refurbished” Products and Can You Trust Them?

The label means you'll grab big discounts on Apple, Sonos and other enviable tech gear, even if it's not quite new

July 22, 2021 8:15 am
Refurbishing an iPhone. The market for refurbished tech is growing, but the concept is different depending on the seller.
Popular devices from Apple, Sonos, Samsung and other tech brands can be cheaper if you buy them "refurbished"
Back Market

If you read InsideHook’s posts on tech deals — as you should — you’ll sometimes find seemingly unbelievable discounts on speakers, smartphones, laptops and headphones. 

We’re talking 30-50% off brands like Sonos, Apple, Bose and Samsung; these are deals that you wouldn’t find during big shopping events like Black Friday or Prime Day.

The big sales secret? These are “refurbished” products, a phrase that can mean different things on different sites. It’s not quite the same as “used” or “open box,” and depending on where you buy this refurbished gear, you’ll be subject to different warranties and the products may (or may not) have cosmetic blemishes.

Is a big discount worth buying a not-quite-new product? To get some background, we spoke with Lauren Benton, the U.S. Managing Director from Back Market, a refurbished marketplace that just launched a Certified Renewed collection from brands like Samsung, Microsoft, Sennheiser and more (we’ve previously recommended Back Market due to their excellent supply of not-quite-new Apple gear). 

Yes, all those words (certified, refurbished, renewed) make a difference. And Back Market’s policies are different from other sites, so we’ll include a few other shopping sites at the end of the interview and explain what they mean when they say “refurbished.”

A sample Back Market listing for renewed Sennheiser headphones
A sample Back Market listing for renewed Sennheiser headphones
Back Market

InsideHook: Are “certified renewed” and “certified refurbished” the same label? 

Lauren Benton: At Back Market we only work with professional refurbishers, so it is important for customers to understand the difference between that and just a “used” phone that may not have undergone any testing or refreshing.

Certified Renewed refers to our newest collection of electronics that have been refurbished directly by the brands that originally manufactured them or one of their authorized affiliates. That means that they come with official accessories and packaging, as well as the reassurance that these devices meet manufacturer quality standards perfectly.

Other renewed electronics sold on Back Market have been tested, refurbished and cleaned by independent refurbishers. These don’t usually come with original accessories or packaging, but are still guaranteed to have perfect functionality. All of our independent refurbishers are closely vetted during their onboarding to our marketplace and we monitor their quality performance for every sale. Customers also have the ability to choose the appearance of these devices (Excellent, Good, Fair) vs. Certified Renewed devices that always appear like-new.

Are there legal requirements to using any of these phrases?

Unfortunately, there is still not a lot of regulation in the industry, and that is one of the reasons Back Market was born, to restore that trust

What should a consumer look for if they see a product listed as renewed or refurbished?

First, what was checked and tested? Devices should be guaranteed to function like new, meaning the refurbisher is testing everything from the battery and screen to the speakers and mic, and much more. This list should be readily available. 

Also, what is the aesthetic state of the product? If everything is functioning like new, are you OK with a few bumps and scratches, or do you want a virtually new-looking device? 

What is the return policy and warranty? First, is it easy to return the product for any reason, including if you just changed your mind or if the product does not come as described? And how are you protected and for how long if issues arise after you have been using the product for some time?

Finally, what is the company’s track record? Reviews should be readily available so you don’t have to take their word for it.

Should a refurbished product ideally be done by the original manufacturer? 

We are seeing refurbished continue to grow as a priority for manufacturers. However, we see this as more of a preference. These products will offer the closest experience to new in terms of packaging, accessories and aesthetics. However, if those things are not super important to you, the professional refurbishers on Back Market still offer a high level of quality and guarantee the product to be 100% functional.

What is the Back Market process and guarantee for these products?

Every device goes through a minimum of 25 quality check points. We are constantly monitoring each seller’s performance to uphold our quality charter, but also use this data to recommend the best deal based on price and quality performance. In addition, our own in-house experts do anonymous orders every week to personally verify the quality of our refurbishers’ products. We offer a 30-day money back guarantee and a minimum 1-year warranty, and recently started offering additional protection plan coverage. Finally, smartphone buyers can download our new app on their phone and run diagnostics as soon as their product arrives. 

Besides discounts, are there other advantages to buying refurbished?

E-waste is definitely a big one and at the core of Back Market’s mission. Producing a single new smartphone takes more than 44 kg of raw material, and creates more than 56kg of CO2. E-waste is the most toxic waste we produce. It comprises 70% of toxic waste in our landfills, inevitably contaminating groundwater and slowly poisoning the ecosystems. Purchasing a refurbished electronic device allows us to make the most out of the resources we have already used for its initial production, while also reducing the overall impact of e-waste on the planet by keeping it from the landfill for as long as possible. 

But refurbished gear is also great for parents or those who may be a little harder on their electronics; for example, parents with young children don’t have to worry as much about a few scratches if kids are not as careful with their devices. And places like Back Market are a good resource for those not able to get the tech they need due to supply chain issues or overwhelming demand. We saw this early on in the pandemic. 

 So that’s Back Market’s plan. A few other sites that sell refurbished gear and what that means:

Apple Watch Series 4, refurbished on Woot
Apple Watch Series 4, refurbished on Woot


Amazon’s flash sale site often sells electronic gear at up to 50% off as refurbished, but the definition can change depending on the event. In a recent Apple sale, you could buy gear with “a moderate level of wear & tear including (but not limited to) scratches, dents, and dings” but in full working condition. But the site also sold some products as Grade A Refurbished, which means the items “have been inspected and guaranteed to have minimal cosmetic damage, which is not noticeable when the device is held at arm’s length & have successfully passed a full diagnostic test which ensures like-new functionality.” Those discounts tend to be a little less. Both options featured a 90-day limited warranty.


Forget the used option — eBay is a secretly great resource for refurbished gear. You’ll get a two-year warranty, money-back guarantee, “hassle-free returns” (basically, a 30-day trial period) and new accessories, new manuals and manufacturer-sealed packaging.

Refurbished One (Gen 1) by Sonos
Refurbished One (Gen 1) by Sonos


The audio brand is one of several manufacturers that is starting to offer refurbished gear directly — the discounts are smaller than you’d find elsewhere, but the items arrive with a one-year warranty, free shipping/returns and the promise of “comprehensive testing and genuine replacement parts.”

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.