Everybody likes a bargain, and if you’re looking for the biggest technology bargains on everything from computers and digital cameras to accessories, it pays to look beyond the normal weekly newspaper flyers or email offers. In this article, I’ll help you understand terms used for different types of technology bargains and the best places to find them. I’ll also show you how to avoid retailers whose offers are too good to be true.
If you want to spend as little as possible for a particular technology item, it helps to know the meaning of typical descriptions.
New / Sealed Box
You’ll see these terms used primarily by websites that sell a mixture of new and other-than-new products, such as eBay or technology closeout websites.
So-called “gray market” items are items sold in a country or region other than the product was originally intended for. For example, a Canon Digital Rebel T2i is the same camera as the EOS 550D. If a new EOS 550D is sold by a US-based camera store, it is a “gray market” product. Gray market products are not covered by the normal manufacturer’s warranty, and thus sell for less. If you buy a gray market product, make sure you get a warranty provided by the dealer – and make sure the dealer is reputable.
Retail Versus OEM (“White Box”)
Computer equipment sold in bulk packaging (often known as OEM [original equipment manufacturer] or “white box”) is typically less expensive than products sold at retail. However, they might feature shorter warranties and be missing useful accessories such as data cables, setup or installation programs or hardware.
Make sure you know the warranty period for a particular OEM product and factor in the cost of missing accessories. You might find that a retail product on sale might actually be cheaper than the OEM version.
An “open box” item means the item was opened for some reason, such as in-store demonstration or a customer return. Reputable sellers will inform you of any missing pieces, and depending upon the item, you can sometimes substantial amounts of money off the same new, sealed box, item.
Demo / Display Model
A demo or display model (also known as the “last one” when a product is being closed out) has been on display in a retail store or used as a salesperson’s demonstration unit.
The condition of a demo or display model depends in large part on how the unit was displayed. If it was in a display case or was handled carefully by a professional salesperson, it can be in like-new condition. However, if the unit was in a self-service “try it yourself” display, it might have some cosmetic or other problems.
Some stores do a good job of keeping items such as the original box, operating system or driver discs, lens caps, and other accessories originally packed with display or demo models, while others throw out everything that’s not necessary to put the item on display. Make sure you know what’s missing, and, if possible, find out how the item was displayed; you might want to negotiate for a lower price if the item has been on active display and used (or abused) a lot.
Some technology vendors specialize in reselling components removed (“pulled”) from computers or other devices. These components may have a lot of wear and tear, or could be virtually unused. These components can be handy for upgrading an older computer or other technology item, but might not be compatible with recent or current equipment.
Scratch and Dent
Scratch and dent technology items are sometimes merely cosmetically lacking, might be missing important parts, or be primarily a parts source. If an item is described as ‘scratch and dent,’ be sure to find out the details before you buy it.
If it’s missing low-cost, easily-replaceable items such as USB cables or lens caps, and the price is right, it’ll be a lot easier (and cheaper) to put the item into useable condition than if it’s missing a proprietary battery, charger, or AC adapter. Before you buy an item that’s missing these types of items, find out how much it costs to replace them, and make sure the replacements are available.
A used item has been purchased by an end user and is typically sold “as is” (although some eBay and other sellers might offer a short money-back return period on certain items).
With used items, it’s essential to determine exactly what’s included with the item and what the item’s condition is, especially with digital cameras and lenses.
Off-lease technology items have been returned after being leased (typically for a year or longer) and have been refurbished by the reseller. Depending upon the vendor, these products might be restored to as close to “like-new” as possible, or might be missing some components.
Vendors who sell a mixture of new, demo, open box, or used items often use one or more grading systems to identify product condition. Some of the most popular include: Mint through VG+, N (new) through X (parts only), 10 through 6, and B-Stock/C-Stock.
In most cases, these grading systems refer to cosmetics, but reputable sellers will inform you if an item is not working properly.
Factory Refurbished Versus Refurbished
Factory refurbished items are items that have been checked and, if necessary, restored to “like-new” working order by the original vendor’s service facilities. These items might be sold by the vendor’s own outlet, or by third parties. Depending upon the vendor, these items might have the same warranty as new items, or a shorter warranty.
“Refurbished” items have been inspected and checked for proper operation, but not necessarily by the original vendor or authorized remanufacturer (check with the vendor for details). If you have a choice, go with a factory refurbished item. I’ve bought factory-refurbished items from Nikon, Epson, and Iomega, and been very happy with the product and the price. Note that units refurbished by either the vendor or a third party don’t always include all components or software provided with new items.