Refurbished smartphones: can we trust these repaired and rebuilt phones?

Nearly 2.6 million refurbished phones were sold in France in 2020.
“It is estimated that 80% of the CO2 emitted by a telephone is being manufactured,” notes Benoit Varin, co-founder of Recommerce. By buying a refurbished phone, you can thus skillfully avoid this phase, which is costly to the environment. (© Christophe Maillet – Genhandel)

Many websites have for some time now offered to buy our old phone back, no matter what condition it is in (the price is of course adjusted accordingly).

Even in stores, it has become commonplace that when buying a new phone, the seller offers to buy our old one back.

The purpose of this maneuver: repair and then resell these devices.

The renovated, kezako?

Once the owner has sold his smartphone to a repair professional, an entire chain is created.

The unit is sent to a repairer and inspected down to the smallest detail, both inside and out. It is then repaired or reused if it is too deteriorated.

Screen, battery, camera, edges … If a component, such as the battery, is too damaged, it will be “automatically replaced” according to the dealers.

In this way, the phone, even if used, can be resold, always according to the renovators, ” As new “at a much more affordable price.

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The Recommerce group, which specializes in this process, estimates the turnover in the renovation market at 700 million euros by 2020.

Of the 21.4 million phones sold in France in 2020, 2.6 million was refurbished. This is an increase of 20% compared to 2019.

What is the difference between buying used?

Between the apartment and the renovated one, “there is, in the eyes of the law, no difference,” as explained by UFC Que Choisir.

But as the market grew, professionals in the renovation industry wanted to qualify.

A used item is sold as is, with its potential defects, while refurbished equipment is necessarily passed through the hands of one or more professionals must be refurbished before sale.

When done right, the product can really be like new.

Camille GruhierJournalist at UFC Que Choisir

Depending on the place of purchase, refurbished equipment can also benefit from one legal guarantee. Finally, for the majority of outlets, physical or online, the buyer has one 30-day withdrawal period.

However, a grain of sand could well disrupt this beautiful mechanism: private copying fee. Recently, refurbished phones are also affected by this measure. It imposes a fee of up to 8.40 euros on these. Also, reconditioning machines, which already had very little margin, will earn even less. “It could be the death of the environment,” warns David Mignot, co-founder of YesYes, a renovation company based in Caen, Calvados.

Buy renovated, a militant act?

It’s no secret that the smartphone industry weighs heavily in global pollution. According to Ademe (Agency for Environment and Energy Management), more than 10 billion smartphones were sold between 2007 and 2020.

The design of only one of these devices requires approx 70 different materials. These metals, plastics and others are sometimes difficult to find and cause a societal problem. So are they very difficult to recycle.

Nearly 2.6 million refurbished phones were sold in France in 2020.
Nearly 2.6 million refurbished phones were sold in France in 2020. (© ML –

The renovation makes it possible as far as possible to avoid using these rare materials. “It is estimated that 80% of the CO2 emitted by a telephone is being manufactured,” notes Benoit Varin, co-founder of Recommerce.

By buying a refurbished phone, you can thus skillfully avoid this phase, which is costly to the environment.

Extending the life of products is the key to more responsible and greener consumption.

Camille GruhierJournalist at Que Choisir

“Saving on the planet’s resources is never insignificant,” the journalist insists.

Choosing the right renovation

Especially since a phone can be renovated several times: “Most of the time we buy a new phone because the battery in the old one is defective or the screen is broken. But inside, everything works, ”wonders David Mignot.

Of course, the ecological argument in favor of refurbished products whose collection, repair and resale do not take place in France is undermined. The CO2 footprint of transport is not insignificant.

On this topic, it is important to clearly distinguish between renovators and marketplaces such as BackMarket: YesYes, Recommerce or Smaart companies have factories in France and renovate their products themselves or through subcontractors. They are responsible for the sale.

For its part, BackMarket is a marketplace. It connects a buyer and a dealer.

“There are companies that strive to make the local and the others work. To be in an organic approach, you have to choose which dealer you buy from, ”advises Camille Gruhier.

The website shows French renovators. The goal: “to enable consumers to responsibly choose a used smartphone, ie 100% refurbished in France, in a short circuit with a reduced CO2 footprint”, as stated on their website.

Economically, is it interesting?

At first glance, yes. very interesting even ! UFC Que Choisir notes that a refurbished phone is sold, depending on its condition and age, between 30 and 50% cheaper than a new phone.

For example, the new iPhone 8 and X were sold for 809 and 1159 euros at Apple. In equal storage, YesYes offers them today for 209 and 349 euros respectively. Similarly, an iPhone 11 at Apple in 2021 will cost 589 euros when you have to pay 469 euros at YesYes.

But most of the time, the phone is not not sold with the original charger. The included one is compatible, but it is.

Although functional, it can have a shorter lifespan compared to its original counterparts. Some renovations guarantee that they work properly, but this is not the case for everyone.

It is clear that a majority of dealers offer chargers in excellent condition, in accordance with the standards of the original manufacturer or European or even both! Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone.

UFC Que Choisir also reports that the autonomy of the refurbished phone ” sometimes leaves something to be desired “but this point is impossible to check before buying.

“In fact, there are no rules, such as for technical inspection of a car. Everyone does what he wants. Some buy first-class equipment and only repair the surface. Others prefer a job well done, ”explains David Mignot.

Will the refurbished market for smartphones stop?

Although smartphones are the most represented devices in the refurbished market, they are not alone.

In addition to computers, tablets, wireless headphones, connected clocks, and other video game consoles, household appliances are available, such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners, or refrigerators.

Some sites that specialize in remodeling also offer planchas or do-it-yourself tools such as blowers or perforators. You can even find refurbished electric scooters!

Before buying new, it may be a good idea to take a look at refurbished retailers, whether from an ecological or economic point of view. It’s about being aware of the source.

As with everything, an informed consumer is worth two!

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