Sales of refurbished devices saw record-breaking growth during the pandemic as more people worked or studied from home. While the mad flurry has calmed down, this niche is maintaining a healthy pulse, which is expected to continue as policies emerge to advance a circular economy, and as more consumers and businesses prioritize sustainability and price point.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

October 2, 2023

4 Min Read
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Sales of refurbished devices saw record-breaking growth during the pandemic as more people worked or studied from home.

While the mad flurry has calmed down, this niche is maintaining a healthy pulse, which is expected to continue as policies emerge to advance a circular economy, and as more consumers and businesses prioritize sustainability and price point.

The global refurbished electronics market hit $85.42 billion in 2021 and should reach about $272.91 billion by the end of 2031, projects Transparency Market Research.

Yet it was not that long ago that industry polls showed low trust in the reliability of electronics that are passed from one user to another. As the mindset is changing, key to earning trust has been and will continue to be substantiating quality of these products, says Maurice Uenuma, vice president and general manager, Blancco Americas.

Blancco provides diagnostics and data sanitization services to processors of used mobile and IT devices, ensuring performance, that data is properly erased, and that products are audit ready.

As they gain shoppers’ attention, ITADs, mobile technologies processors, and online trading platforms like eBay and Amazon are stepping up to guarantee used products meet high standards, and to prove their value to consumers.

eBay has contracted with Blancco so test results derived using Blancco’s software can be mapped to eBay’s grading criteria of mobile devices, desktops, and laptops sold on eBay’s U.S. website.

By leveraging the tech company’s software, processors preparing devices for resale can develop consistent diagnostics reports and reliably assess products’ condition in alignment with the global e-commerce platform’s grading standards, Uenuma says.

“This is ultimately about end buyers’ confidence in the condition or quality of used devices. We provide an objective assessment rather than a subjective self-assessment, or even a software-based assessment that would entail interpreting test results,” he says.

There are plenty of details to vet, because while there’s a high degree of consistency in determining reliability of new devices, more variables emerge in the secondary market. Who’s owned the device? How did they use it? Is it clean and properly handled? Is the data properly wiped?

eBay does not disclose the number of electronic devices it sells, though Mari Corella, general manager, Home & Hard Goods, eBay, says sales are growing “meaningfully faster” than brand new goods and that in the first two quarters of 2023, eBay’s “Refurbished” program maintained double-digit year-over-year growth from the previous year.

It is through this program that the company established its grading conditions: “Certified Refurbished” (pristine, like-new condition); “Excellent” (like-new condition with no visible wear); “Very Good” (minimal visible wear); and “Good” (moderate wear).

The vetting criteria considers factors such as battery life, functionality (i.e., dead pixels), and cosmetic quality.

In eBay’s most recent Recommerce Report, a survey of sellers and buyers, for the first time, buyers called out sustainability as their second-place reason for shopping for refurbished merchandise.

“What’s especially encouraging for me is knowing how important sustainability is for the younger generation. While our Recommerce Report found that buyers were most attracted to shopping refurbished because they can save big on top brands and their secondary motivation was sustainability, those motivations were strongest amongst Gen Z respondents,” Corella says.

In 2022, refurbished smartphone sales alone, among the most popular used electronics on eBay, avoided 19,800 tons of CO2 emissions, equal to taking 3,900 cars off the road for a year.

Secondary markets are gaining traction from a business sense. They lessen the hold of a global supply chain that can be turned on its head by any of a number of disruptions.

“The ability to strengthen the circular economy and to reuse, recycle, and repurpose allows us to reduce our exposure to risks such as a global pandemic that shut down shipping, or inherent risks, such as trade embargos or [scarcity of] rare earth metals mined only in a few places on the planet,” Uenuma says.

But he points out one substantial barrier the secondary market faces: it’s beholden to the primary market in terms of supply and demand and pricing. The COVID rollercoaster shone light on this dynamic. With laptop demand spiking and supply chain backups, prices soared, and more consumers turned to resale.

Eventually the supply chain caught up leading to a massive surplus. When enterprises handed off their electronics to processors, prices dropped.

“That is good for consumers, but ITADs are less likely to invest in preparing these devices to sell on the secondary market. They can’t even break even in some cases, and a lot [of materials] get shredded and landfilled,” Uenuma says.

“That’s one downside of the secondary market. It gets whipped around by the primary market,” he says.

The best we can do to stimulate that market is to stoke demand. And that comes back to the question of trust. The more I trust eBay to deliver good quality, the more likely I am to buy on eBay versus purchasing a new device at Best Buy.”

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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