How to buy an open box computer

Open box
What is an Open Box computer?
These are computers returned to a retailer’s store, that have been repaired and tested. Retailers can’t sell these computers as new, even no repairs were made.

Most repairs are cosmetic, like removing scratches on the case. Other repairs require replacement of faulty mechanical parts or electronic components, easily accomplished because  techs have a range of diagnostic tools at their disposal.

Once these parts are replaced, the tech performs a burn in test. When a computer passes this test, a general rule of thumb is that its components will last for years. Not so for mechanical parts, which is why you should get an extended warranty.
Many unhappy returns
When I worked in retail computer sales at a Bog Box retailer, I learned the reasons why folks make returns for different reasons. Knowing why they were returned can be a benefit when you shop.

  • Buyer’s remorse set in when the buyer realized he/she overspent
  • The computer didn’t match the buyer’s need, because the buyer didn’t know what he wanted
  • The buyer discovered that advertising hype doesn’t always match performance
  • The buyer didn’t like the case color
  • Something was wrong and the computer wouldn’t boot up.
  • The buyer dropped it while transporting it home

How you can benefit from an open box purchase
Returns go to an in-house tech for quick diagnosis and repair before being returned to the floor. To get the best deal, know what you’re looking for.

Ask the sales staffer why a computer was returned. Check to make sure that all loose parts came back with it. Sometimes manuals, CD master discs, keyboards, mice and cables disappear. Make sure that the retailer will replace whatevers missing. Most of the time they will. But if the retailer no longer has spares, just say no and move on to the next computer.
All open box computers have some pros and cons.
The pros are 20%-50% cost saving.

Some argue that returned computers are problematic and you’re buying someone else’s problems. But this isn’t necessarily so, because each computer has been given a thorough bench test to determines problem areas and faulty things repaired or replaced.
Where can you find an open box computer?
Do your homework beforehand, so you know the brand and specs you want. Make a laundry list before hunting open box models.

Open boxes are displayed somewhere on the retail sales floor, or warehoused in back rooms. Ask your sales staffer where they are. Sometimes returned units masquerade as demo models.

Most technology remains a mystery to many, and buyers often feel intimidated when encountering a floor salesperson. That’s why they shop with reinforcements, a family or friendly geek who “knows” what they need.

But beware the geek. For geeks don’t always know what you need, but are happy to spend your money for something that they would want.
Here’s a good example of a bad decision
When I was at my local Best Buy recently, there was a guy shopping computers because his had died. Turns out that his unit had been sold by a friend for a whopping $20 several years before.

Now this buyer insisted that the sales guy, call him Chris, give him a better price on lower end models, based on unrealistic expectations of what he previously paid.

What he wanted was low price. But his responses to Chris’s probing questions revealed he needed more power since he wanted to make videos, and watch or stream on-demand movies. What he didn’t understand was this wasn’t going to cost $20, no matter how badly he wanted it to.

When he asked my opinion, I told him the same advice I’m giving here:

” Buy all the technology you can afford now, because the computer you buy today will be obsolete by tomorrow. So buy something that can last for 3-5 years before you upgrade again.”

Well, he didn’t hear me because he thought I was going to “steal” an open box unit that would have been perfect for his needs, but not for mine, since I wanted Windows 7 and not the preloaded Windows 8.

Unconvinced, the buyer asked if his old monitor would work with the open box he was considering. It wouldn’t. But he didn’t believe it. He left, thinking that Chris and I were a tag team trying to rip him off.

I suspect he’ll be back, trying to get a low ball deal on underpowered and outdated computer not worth the price.
Why dinosaurs can’t be updated
What this buyer didn’t understand, is that low-end computers can be costly or impossible to upgrade. Once the motherboard is in place, the thing that holds all the Dino pairsoldered components, there isn’t anything else you can add.

Some computers have reserved “slots,” but these are for memory add ons. Processors or chips can’t be changed, because it would require reconfiguring the entire computer at a huge cost.
The benefits of open box – why buy new when used will do?
Buying open box will definitely save you money. New models have the latest technology. I call this whistles and bells. But “older” generation machines were just as shiny and slick when they first appeared on the market, just a few months ago.

If you are able to use your monitor and printer, all you need do is buy a tower or desktop and update some software.

Too many folks buy wayyy too much computer for their needs, especially when buying something new to replace an aging dinosaur. Know your technology. If not, know what you need a computer for. Why buy more computer than you need?
Get an extended warranty
Open box computers are covered by a manufacturer’s 90-day warranty. But if you can, get an extended warranty from the retailer.

I’ve done this and it really paid off. I wore out two CD-Rom drives on my EMachines tower. At Best Buy’s in-house repair shop, I asked the tech to perform needed repairs and vacuum out all dust inside the tower.

Dust is a computer killer, because dust sticks to and insulates components, or clogs computer exhaust fans increasing the computer’s interior heat.

Unless you plan to keep your computer longer than three years, don’t buy an extended warranty for longer than this, because most likely you’ll want to replace your unit within thee years anyway.
What about laptops?
While I’ve been talking about towers and desktops here, laptops are returned for the same reasons. But repairs are limited.

Laptop interiors are very tightly packed and difficult to work on. Adjacent components are easily damaged. Not to mention that laptops are bumped and dropped which often leads to the unit’s failure.
Go forth and be happy
Buying an open box computer may be just right for you, be you a consumer or small business owner depending upon the number of employees in your business. It’s a great way of saving money. And in a down economy, that just can’t be beat.
Other posts in the series
How to save money when buying a new or used computer in a down economy
What does a bench test and burn in have to do with buying a used computer?