Why I decided to buy a refurbished tv, and how a photo on my iphone saved me an extra $110

There is something kind of worrisome about buying a refurbished product.  You can saves some money, but the idea that the product was knowingly defective at some point imbues it with a feeling of imperfection.  I recently weighed these questions and opted to buy a refurbished HDTV (yes, I have joined the 21st century!) and thought it was worth sharing my rationale for the decision.

In order to understand why I went with a refurbished product, it’s important to understand why I was buying the TV in the first place.  For the past year and a half, I have been on a mission to cut television costs.  We have young kids and don’t watch very much television (around 4 hours or so a week), so I haven’t been able to justify the costs of upgrading our existing standard definition TV, which has been in good working order.  I even went so far as to cut our cable bill and use an HD TiVo to pull in over-the-air signals for free.

For the few shows we watch that aren’t available over the air (like The Closer), we just download them on iTunes, spending far less on the shows than we would on cable.  The process to do this has involved downloading them on my iPad and then hooking the iPad up to the TV, which worked well enough but required planning ahead each time.  I had often thought about getting an Apple TV for just $100 to make this much easier.  I knew that the Apple TV was incompatible with our standard TV, but I found a device on Amazon that was being used by many people to down-convert the HDMI signal for older televisions.  However, I had a sense that they were getting to release a new model, so I was waiting.

When Apple announced the new Apple TV a few weeks ago, I jumped on it and ordered it. I was then about to order the converter when I noticed one Amazon reviewer saying they hated it.  Curious, I clicked on it, and in the process I discovered that the converter squishes the image.  I had assumed it would just put black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, but apparently it squeezes the content so that it takes up the whole screen, making everyone look very thin.  This is exactly the sort of thing that would drive me bananas.

When I explained my conundrum to my wife, she had a simple solution – return the Apple TV.  However, I was in the midst of a sunk-cost fallacy; I was already committed to the $99 Apple TV, so all of a sudden, upgrading to an HD television started to seem like a reasonable idea.  I started to wonder just how cheaply I could get one for.

In my mind, an HD television around the size I would want some where in the mid-40 inches) would be over $1000, but apparently the introduction of 3D sets (which I have no interest in) has pushed prices down.  I discovered that I could easily get one for $700 and possibly even lower.  After some pleading and convincing, my wife agreed to consider it.

That Sunday, I wandered into Microcenter, an electronics store near my house, and saw a great deal – a 46″ Toshiba television with a 120 Hz refresh rate, 3 HDMI ports (one for the TiVo, one for the Apple TV, and one to grow on), all for just $500.  Why so cheap?  Because it was on sale… and it was refurbished.

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I’ve purchased refurbished products a few other times in my life, and my experiences have been positive.  We got an iPod nano for my wife when she was pregnant so that she could listen to podcasts in the middle of the night when she was unable to sleep, and it has worked perfectly.  We also replaced my wife’s iPhone with a refurbished model when hers and she wasn’t yet eligible for an upgrade.  Both of those continue to work fine to this day.

Someone once described the benefits of a refurbished product this way to me: the product was broken and sent back to the manufacturer.  Most likely the device was discovered to be broken as soon as it came out of the box and immediately returned.  The manufacturer had to then give it a thorough investigation to figure out what was not working, fix it, and get it ready for sale.  It’s now been thoroughly tested and declared good.  In some ways, it is now in better shape than a new one that hasn’t been so thoroughly tested.  And for this, they will take 20% off the price.  

For me, this was prefect.  I was only getting the TV because I had been more or less forced into it, so I didn’t have the emotional barrier to getting one that had never been touched by anyone else.  I just wanted the best deal possible.

So I went home to discuss it with my wife.  She at first objected to the idea of getting a refurbished model on the theory that if I was going to buy a TV, just spend the money, but I convinced her the deal was worth it, so I returned later that afternoon to buy it.

And I came back to a surprise.  The TV that I had seen a few hours earlier for $500 was now selling for $610.  When I asked a sales clerk what had happened, he scrutinized the label and then explained that it had been on sale last week, and they must have not yet changed the price tag when I was in earlier.

As it happened, I had snapped a photo with my phone of the label when I was in earlier.  I tend to do this so that I can look up information about a possible product later and don’t have to wonder exactly which one it was.  I showed it to the clerk, who went off to discuss the issue with his manager.

After a few minutes he returned and told me they would honor the price from the morning.  Soon I had the television home and set it up.  So far, it has worked flawlessly.

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And I have to say, despite not having seen a need for an HDTV television, it’s pretty nice!  For $500, it might even be worth it.
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