Sustainable Retail: Switching onto refurbished electronics

Welcome to the latest sustainability column that takes a look at what retailing is doing to address the issues in its industry. Much of the ongoing focus will be on fashion but not exclusively.

This month’s column takes look at the emerging market in refurbished electronics that might not be as hyped as fashion but is proving to have increasing appeal.

We are very pleased to bring this series of columns to you with the much appreciated support of our sponsor Prolog Fulfilment.

Shopping in charity shops for bargains has become fashionable for probably the first time in my lifetime and I’ve even become a regular visitor myself to various stores – invariably accompanied by my young daughter who is among the generation that is driving the ongoing growth in the resale market.

My purchases have been largely limited to obvious categories such as clothing (i.e. casual shirts) and books whereas my daughter is much more adventurous and buys across the board. This now also includes electronics, which is something that my generation has largely felt uncomfortable about purchasing because of the (probably made-up) horror stories of buying faulty products or hard-drives containing other people’s content.

As good as new iPhones

She has purchased a number of earlier models of iPhones from CeX store on my local high street at seriously discounted prices and has encountered no problems to date. These transactions have all been driven by her inability to afford a new version of these Apple devices. Her actions have prompted other family members to also purchase used iPhones.

They are clearly not alone because sales of used mobile phones reached £10.5 billion globally in the first quarter of 2023, according to CCS Insight, and this has undoubtedly been helped by the cost-of-living crisis crimping people’s abilities to buying new devices. Highlighting this shift in demand is the CCS Insight data that shows second-hand smartphone sales increased 14% year-on-year in Q1 compared with only 2% growth for new devices.

This has, not surprisingly, put pressure on retailers plying their trade in the electronics market such as AO and Currys. They have rather sensibly been increasingly looking to play a part in the refurbished electronics market, with Currys efforts encompassing phones and laptops, which has seen a gradually increasing level of demand from consumers.

Meanwhile at AO, it has set up AO Outlet that is hosted on eBay and includes an array of refurbished products from all types of white goods to wine chillers, TVs and microwaves. On recent viewing the online store highlighted it had sold 49,000 refurbished products.

These newcomers to the second-hand market join established player Music Magpie that has been selling used mobile phones for some years – after it realised its initial market in used CDs and DVDs was shrinking dramatically – and has been gradually expanding its offer to now include laptops, PCs, games consoles, and tablets.

As well as the affordability of refurbished goods, Music Magpie has also found the appeal from consumers of purchasing new devices has been waning as the value from the new features they include has been reducing over recent years. There are only so many enhancements that can be made to the camera on a smartphone. With a fully refurbished, keenly-priced older model, including a warranty, then the appeal has been growing for a number of consumers.

The warranty is especially valuable and any retailer worth their salt will only deal in such guarantees if it comes alongside a robust diagnostics and refurbishing capability. There is no doubt that for the resale market in electronics to truly take-off it has to involve products that consumers are wholly confident about and that dispel any of those – real or not – horror stories that have existed around used computers and phones over many years.

Aligning with specialists in refurbishment as well as fulfilment and logistics will continue to play a crucial role in growing the resale market for electronics and help put it on a firm footing alongside the more established categories of fashion and clothing.

Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider

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