5 Tips for Nabbing Tech on the Cheap

cheap tech

If only the recession didn't have to come between you and your future iPhone. Or BlackBerry. Or the latest bantamweight laptop.

Even in good times, consumer electronics can seem painfully pricey. Now, as we all try to scrimp and save, they can feel even more out of reach.

But there are cheaper options for those willing to do a bit of research and exercise some flexibility.

Refurbished goods, so-called "deal of the day" Web sites and online auctions are just a few alternatives for the budget-conscious consumer.

Just be wary of deals that look too good to be true and check out the return policy and warranty before you make a purchase.

1. Give second-hand a chance.

Not only are refurbished electronics easier on your wallet, they also keep electronic waste out of landfills.

Refurbished goods run the gamut from TVs, digital cameras, laptops and phones that have been returned to the retailer or manufacturer and then restored to look and work like new. Sometimes the products have been returned without having been opened.

Once the manufacturers receive a used product, they test it, clear the data off of it and then return the item to the original specifications.

Big Box Stores and Manufacturers Offer Refurbished Electronics

The big box stores, such as Best Buy and Target, sell refurbished products at bargain prices. As do manufacturers, such as Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony Epson and others.

At Apple's Special Deals section, for example, the MacBook Air, which starts at $1799 for a brand-new laptop, can be had for $999 and up.

Best Buy also sells refurbished goods. For example, used iPhone 3Gs are on sale for $50 less than the price of new ones ($99 for the 8GB version and $149 for the 16GB version).

On its Web site, Best Buy said that prices on refurbished items are, on average, 15 percent to 20 percent lower than brand new products. But they still come with the manufacturer's 90-day limited hardware warranty.

E-commerce king Amazon.com also sells a range of refurbished electronics on both its flaghip site and its sister site WarehouseDeals.com.

Stick With Vendors With Vested Interests in Protecting Their Brands

"When you're buying refurbished stuff, we think it's safest to do it from the manufacturer or sites like Warehousedeals.com," said Paul Reynolds, the electronics editor for Consumer Reports.

Amazon-related sites are recommended, he said, as they have long histories running reliable e-commerce operations.

Overall, a good rule of thumb, experts say, is sticking with retailers and manufacturers that have a vested interested in protecting their reputation.

2. Watch for discounts of the day.

Woot.com was one of the first in 2004. But now a whole crop of Web sites feature a new deal every single day. Similar sites aggregate daily deals so that online shoppers can browse several bargains in one place.

The products are discounted for a variety of reasons. Some are manufacturer surpluses or closeouts, others are refurbished or part of a promotional or marketing push.

Consumer Reports' Reynolds emphasizes that these sites aren't made for everyone.

'Deal of the Day' Sites Best for Those Who Can Be Flexible

"They're best suited for people who are not looking for something specific," he said.

Those who aren't too fussy about models and brands will be most satisfied with these sites, as will those "who insanely love deals," he added.

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