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'Open box,' refurbished TVs can be cheaper, but are they worth it?

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 10:45 AM
TAMPA -

For anyone TV shopping before the Super Bowl, there's one especially tempting aisle in electronics stores: The refurbished section.

Rows of $2,400 TVs cut to $1,500, or $1,500 TVs cut to $1,000.

Sure, some may be scratch-and-dent or display models, but some are absolutely new televisions that were taken out of the box but brought back to the store in perfect condition after just a few hours at a customer's home.

"The most common thing is someone takes the TV home and it's either too big or too small — usually too small," said Dan Vileno, a sales associate at Best Buy in Tampa.

Pointing to a 65-inch Sony, he said, "This one, a guy brought home and his wife said it was too big. So he brought it back and bought a smaller one."

Returned televisions are an appealing, if shadowy, corner of the marketplace. A slew of retailers sell refurbished or "open box" TVs, including Best Buy, hhgregg, Sears and Amazon. Each retailer has its own way of handling them, and the deals can vary.

Types

Customers interested in a bargain can ask about TVs that were returned, not for a flaw but because the buyer decided on a different kind. For instance, Best Buy on Friday was selling a 65-inch Samsung that lists new for $2,400 but is now an "open box" item for $1,549.

When TVs like that are returned, Best Buy will either send the TV back to the manufacturer or the store's own Geek Squad tests it for flaws, and scrubs the TV clean from any data left in its memory, such as apps downloaded and Internet browser history.

Customers can also ask about refurbished TVs, those with a flaw. Sears, for instance, takes back flawed televisions from customers and sends them to the manufacturer, which often sends the TVs out for repair so Sears can resell them at stores or on Sears.com.

There are also scratch-and-dent items. Typically these are display models the stores had for customers to compare, and when the next TV model arrives from manufacturers, those display versions are sold at a discount.

Warranty

Like buying a used car, shopping for refurbished TVs creates a classic risk versus reward question. Yes, they are cheaper, but if they don't work right or last long, was it worth it?

The most important question for customers to ask is whether the TV still comes with a warranty, said Jim Willcox a TV expert at Consumer Reports magazine.

"Who gives that warranty, the retailer or the manufacturer?" Willcox said. "The manufacturer's warranty might be void with anything refurbished. Some manufacturers sell their own refurbished items, like Apple, which still warranties the product."

At Amazon, for instance, the vast majority of refurbished TVs are actually from third-party sellers, and each one of those companies would have their own policies on returns and warranties.

As for whether the TVs are ultimately a good deal, Willcox said price is one factor to consider.

"TV prices fall pretty quickly," Willcox said. "You should ask yourself how much do you need that TV now, because you could just wait six months and the price on a new one will come down anyway."


rmullins@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7919 Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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