Black Friday: A Conscientious Buyer’s Guide To Buying Electronics
by: Vianney Vaute / CCO, Back Market
We can bash Black Friday and mindless consumerism until the cows come home, but let’s face it — who doesn’t love a bargain? Credit cards in hand, people are going to go out there en masse the Friday after Thanksgiving and they’re going to keep shopping all the way up until Christmas. There’s a reason that the four week period between Black Friday and Christmas represents a huge chunk of annual retail sales (that number was about 20% in 2014).
This could be seen as a cause for discouragement, but in fact, it is a huge opportunity to be seized. This is a time when retailers and manufacturers are listening and looking for trends, and for conscientious buyers — an excellent time to push for change through their purchases. Last year, on Black Friday weekend, 30% of 174 million people bought consumer electronics. That is a staggering 52,200,000 people — more than the current population of Canada. If just a fraction of that number started being more intentional (and vocal) about their purchases, perhaps in a few years they could help shape trends that would encourage manufacturers to design processes and products that are more sustainable overall.
While we can’t expect minds and hearts to change in a day, there are some first steps that those who are already mindful of the e-waste problem can take this Black Friday, in order to help usher in an age of smarter electronics consumption and “Fair Tech”
- If It’s Broke, Fix It
This year marks big wins on the part of the Right to Repair movement, with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cracking down on manufacturers voiding warranties for devices that have been independently repaired or that have used non-original parts this past April and the late-October ruling from the Library of Congress exempting a large variety of electronics from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Show manufacturers that you are taking advantage of your right to repair (and use the savings you make to treat yourself or someone else to an experience — a cool show, a nice dinner, a trip out of town.) Before buying something for yourself, ask if you really need to upgrade or change devices right now or if what you have is adequate. For gifts, plan on treating a loved one to the repair of an existing device this holiday season — maybe they have something they love that could use a tune-up.
It’s equally important to be vocal about choosing to repair your devices, in order to encourage others to do the same and also to be heard by high tech and appliance manufacturers that are trying to resist right to repair legislation through back channels. For instance, while people may now lawfully circumvent digital rights management (DRM) software, it’s not illegal for manufacturers to make it difficult, if not impossible to do so — case in point, the alleged kill switch built into new MacBook Pros.
(And repair people, consider offering discounts on your services and DIY kits during Black Friday and the holiday season).
2. Buy Devices Based On Their Repairability
If we want manufacturers to build things that last, we can start by buying things that we plan on keeping for as long as possible. iFixit has a repairability chart for different kinds of electronics, giving them scores of between 1–10, with 1 being the most difficult to repair and 10 being the easiest. Check out their lists for Phones, Tablets, and Laptops. In general, Apple devices are less easily repaired than others but, it should also be noted that particularly for smartphones, Android phones are reputed not to have very good software support as they age.
3. Buy Second-Hand Devices
Keeping devices in circulation for longer means getting the best value out of all the resources used up to create them — and it also helps that these devices often come at a friendlier price than new. While some people are wary about buying pre-owned electronics, there are precautions that can be taken. The safest bet is to stick to professionally refurbished products — devices and appliances that have been thoroughly tested by professionals and repaired, if necessary, so that they function like new.
Just be aware that some people falsely claim to sell refurbished when they are selling untested electronics. A good way to feel confident that a device has been properly refurbished is if it comes with a decent return policy and warranty. A number of reputable marketplaces exist that connect buyers with certified refurbishers, and you should look for at least a 30-day return policy and 6-month warranty.
If you need more reassurance, you can also buy directly from the manufacturer. They often have a longer warranty period; the only issue is that manufacturers don’t always have a robust stock of devices and prices are generally (much) higher.
4. Avoid Manufacturers That Void Warranties Illegally (Or At Least Complain Loudly)
In spite of the recent FTC warning, manufacturers are still slapping on their ubiquitous “void if removed” stickers and illegally voiding warranties, taking advantage of consumers’ ignorance of the Law. A quick look at the warranty terms of any product you purchase should let you know whether the manufacturer says or appears to suggest that independent repair will result in a voided warranty. A survey conducted by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund shows that 45 out of 50 companies reviewed violate the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act by voiding their warranties. See the complete list here. Some of the more recognizable names on the list include LG Electronics, Samsung, and Philips.
Black Friday Can Also Be Fair Tech Friday
This year, a consumer survey by the National Retail Federation projects holiday retail sales of between $717.45 billion to $720.80 billion in November and December. In spite of remarks about anti-capitalism that inevitably come when there is talk about protecting the environment, the fact is that the best way to create change in the electronic manufacturing industry would be for consumers to change the things that they buy and the way that they buy them.
This Black Friday, thousands of shoppers have the potential to be agents for change, simply by spending the money they were going to spend anyway, in a more thoughtful way and then telling other people about how easy it is to do the same. Starting with just a small pocket of people, we can help spread awareness and to promote realistic, even attractive, alternatives to the current pattern of buying new objects and then thoughtlessly discarding them.