What Is 'Open-Box' and Should You Buy It?

You can save around 20% by shopping open-box, but these items aren't always a good deal.
Packages on a Conveyor Belt

Refurbished goods tend to get a bad rap, but these like-new items can actually save you a bundle. Open-box products have a similarly bad reputation. They may actually be brand-new items, though, just with a nice discount because the box happens to be open.

While open-box products can be a good deal, they aren't always. If you're considering buying open-box, here are a few things you need to know first.

What Does 'Open-Box' Mean?

When you see an item marked as "open-box," it means just that: the package has been opened. It's likely been returned for some reason, but not necessarily because it's damaged. According to a report from the consulting firm Accenture, only 5% of returns are related to item defects. An open-box product could simply be something a shopper changed their mind about. The buyer may have returned it because they decided they didn't like the color, or for an equally trivial reason. So you could be picking up a completely new, unused item for a nice discount.

Open-box products are typically floor models or returned goods that have been inspected to make sure they work.

However, that may not always be the case. Most stores will allow you to return products for at least a couple of weeks, and as a result, these open-box items could have seen some use. They could show a little wear or cosmetic damage from their brief time in the original buyer's hands. This usually isn't a problem, but you should be aware that buying open-box means some items will used, if only lightly.

Open-box products can also be floor models, which the store has used to show the item off to customers. These can be a dicey buy, as they've probably seen a lot of use. Even if they've never left the store, the all-day use adds up, and can make the items more failure prone. If the open-box item you're looking at is a floor model, you may want to reconsider.

Whatever the reason an item has been labeled "open-box," these products usually get an inspection to make sure they're working before they're sold. This could be a thorough check of the product's functionality, or the inspection could be as basic as plugging the item in to make sure it powers on. Either way, open-box products should (usually) work, though it's worth finding out how they've been tested by the retailer. More testing can help ensure a more reliable product.

SEE ALSO: What Does Refurbished Mean?

One other thing to be aware of — and be wary of — is the fact that open-box products may be sold "as is," meaning you can't return or exchange them. The manufacturer's warranty may or may not apply, too. So if you buy an open-box product that turns out to be damaged or defective, you have no recourse. Not all retailers do this, but you'll want to find out before you buy.

Even with these caveats, open-box items can still be a bargain for careful shoppers.

Broken Computers

Open-Box vs. Refurbished Items

Retailers may sell refurbished and open-box items in the same section of their store or website, and even use the terms like they're interchangeable. However, there's a big difference between refurbished and open-box products. Refurbished items are damaged goods that have been repaired to return them to like-new condition, while open-box items have simply been returned to the store for some reason, then put back on store shelves with an open-box label.

Refurbs are damaged goods that have been repaired, while open-box items have been returned, then put back on store shelves with an open-box label.

Either type of product can give you a great deal, but be sure you know which one you're buying — and what to look for — before you take it home.

What to Consider Before Buying Open-Box

Before you buy, be sure to find out the following:

  • What the return policy is. While most open-box products work just fine, some may not. A return policy protects you in case you wind up with a lemon.

  • Whether it'll cost anything to return. If the store has a return policy, you'll also want to find out whether there's a restocking fee, or if you have to pay postage to return a purchase you've made online.

  • Whether there's a warranty. Sometimes the manufacturer's warranty will still apply to an open-box item, but sometimes it won't.

  • Where it came from. If you can, find out if the product was a return (and what it was returned for), a floor model, or something else. Knowing where it came from can tell you a lot about the item's condition. In-store, this may be explained on a sticker on the product box.

  • How much wear and tear it has. If you're in a store, ask if you can look at the item before you buy. When online, look for sites with plenty of photos, so you can tell if a product has any obvious physical damage.

  • Whether it includes accessories. Sometimes open-box items may be missing the manual, cables, or other accessories. A manual is easy to replace with a digital copy, but cables will just add something else to your shopping list while eating into your savings.

  • How big of a bargain it is. You may think all open-box products are great deals, but this isn't always the case. Unless you're getting a good discount, open-box may not be worth the risk.

Why to Buy Open-Box

The biggest reason to consider an open-box item is cost. Still, be sure to check that discount before you buy. There's always some risk of getting a damaged good, so if the discount isn't great (or there isn't a return policy), you may want to reconsider. Because the products can be brand-new, they can make for a fantastic buy — and as long as there's a return policy, there isn't much risk to buying open-box.

SEE ALSO: Everything You Need to Know About Buying Refurbished Electronics

Why NOT to Buy Open-Box

Even with a particularly low price, there are reasons to avoid buying open-box. A lack of return policy can be a big warning sign, with the best prices only offered on products the retailer won't stand behind. Because open-box items may not have a manufacturer's warranty, either, there may not be anything you can do if the product is defective.

It can also be hard to tell how much wear these items have. You may not know why they were returned or whether they were floor models, and if you aren't careful, you could wind up with an item that's simply used.

What to Buy Open-Box

While not every deal is a good one, shopping open-box can save you in the 20% range — and sometimes more. Your biggest opportunities are with pricey electronics, where even a few percentage points could mean serious savings.

Shopping open-box can save you around 20% — and sometimes more.

Where to Buy Open-Box

The best place to buy open-box products is at a retailer you trust. Amazon, Newegg, and Best Buy all sell open-box items, and products often fall under their standard return policy (though you'll want to double-check).

eBay is another place to look for open-box items, but you'll want to shop with care. When buying from a small seller on eBay (or anywhere else), you should look for sellers with good feedback, so you can be sure you aren't throwing your money at products that just don't work.

Readers, what have your experiences been with open-box products? Let us know in the comments below!

DealNews Contributing Writer

Originally working in IT, Elizabeth now writes on tech, gaming, and general consumer issues. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Time, AOL, PriceGrabber, and more. She has been one of DealNews' most regular contributors since 2013, researching everything from vacuums to renters insurance to help consumers.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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Unless Best Buy had a dramatic shift in recent years, Best Buy has awful customer service, especially in CA. I had shopped at several Best Buy stores in various states and the one in Dallas years ago, had the best trained employees.
I regularly get factory refurbished or open box items from reputable companies. They often have a good return policy. Open 4k Blu-ray player from Best buy via ebay, Asus Chromebook factory refurbished via Amazon. Couple of items that I had to return were a toaster oven that had a loose door handle that the trim made impossible to tighten but Amazon had UPS stop and pickup and sent another as soon as it was shown as picked up and a miss labeled set of truck headlights. Reputable retailers make the experience easy. Don't abuse the return policy as I hear that Amazon now tracks abusers
If you have a MicroCenter in your area, their returns rack is a great source for deals if you find something you need on it.
Avoid returned stuff at Fry's though, They'll re-shrinkwrap stuff and throw it back on the shelf without any sort of testing, and not necessarily even mark it as a return.
Got a great deal from Amazon on a Lens from their Warehouse Deals. The box was damaged was all. Saved $64
Good advice/comment arkansan4ever.
I regularly buy only open box electronics. However, I make sure all the accessories are in the box and that the standard warranty is applicable. I have never had an issue with a single item. I do try to avoid 'refurbished' unless it specifically says 'refurbished by manufacturer.' For some sellers (especially on eBay) refurbished means blowing dust off the product. If you prefer Apple products, I would recommend going to the Apple site and checking out their 'Refurbished and Clearance' section. I've seen older products up to 31% off and they come with the normal Apple warranty. The normal discount is 7-9%.