Thrift stores are a goldmine when it comes to a variety of goods, such as collectibles, kitchenware, seasonal decorations, furniture, vintage apparel and other household items. They’re not always the best place for electronics, though.
In fact, you could end up wasting more money on thrift store electronics than if you were to simply buy them new in the first place. Here are the top eight electronics to avoid at thrift stores, and where you might want to shop instead.
The idea of purchasing a secondhand mobile phone for cheap at a thrift store might be appealing, but it’s not without risk. Oftentimes, people turn in their old phones to thrift shops because they’re defective or no longer work. In some cases, the phones are still locked, meaning you might not be able to use what you buy even if it would function otherwise.
“I’ve had bad luck with buying used cell phones at thrift stores,” said Mac Steer, owner and director at Simify. “In some cases, they might have been stolen or otherwise compromised in some way that made them less trustworthy than new ones (e.g., they might have been rooted or tampered with). And in other cases, the phones appeared perfectly fine but they didn’t work because of network issues or because they needed to be unlocked by their carriers before being used on other networks (which can sometimes be difficult).”
Popular audio devices, like stereos, sound bars or headsets, might seem like another great find at a thrift store, but they also come with their share of drawbacks. Used electronic devices like these may have distorted or poor sound quality. They may also have wiring problems.
Like most other electronics, these types of devices also have a specific longevity. If you find one secondhand at a thrift store, it might have seen better days.
Cameras and Camera Equipment
Cameras and related equipment can be expensive when bought new. Because of this, many people turn to secondhand stores to try to score a great deal. As long as the device — or devices — are in good condition, you could end up saving a lot of money this way.
But there are a few things to watch out for. Used cameras can contain faulty hardware or scratched lenses. These devices also rarely come with a manufacturer warranty, which could be problematic if you make a purchase now only to find out there’s an issue a week or two later.
When it comes to televisions, there is an array of potential issues when buying used. For one, you might not be able to test the TV to make sure the screen itself actually works. If you’re unlucky, you could end up with a poor image or audio.
And just because you can’t see any physical evidence of tampering or wear and tear doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Cords and internal wiring could be frayed or degraded, which could become a safety issue down the line. Or they could simply not work.
Laptops or Desktop Computers
Like televisions, laptops and desktop computers are another electronic you might want to avoid.
“The first time I tried to buy a used laptop, I bought one that worked for about two months before the screen started to go out,” said Steer. “The second time I tried to buy a used computer, it turned out to be so slow that it was useless. In both cases, my experience was that the people who sold me these items did not seem to know much about what they were selling and didn’t really care whether or not it worked or if they could help me troubleshoot it when it stopped working.”
Some used computers also have defective hardware or malware that can ruin your experience. And if you purchase an older device, there’s a good chance it won’t come with a warranty.
Gaming consoles — like Xbox, PlayStation, or Nintendo Switch systems — can be a steal at the thrift shop, but only if you find something that works. And unless the store you’re shopping at lets you test out the console then and there, chances are you won’t know how well it works until you bring it home.
Other Handheld Devices
“Many thrifters will opt for smaller electronic items under the assumption that it’s a minor investment, so it doesn’t necessarily matter if the device has issues,” said Ashley Woodyatt, interior designer and founder of Woodyatt Curtains. “In the spirit of proper thrifting, it’s best to avoid any retro or handheld items that could be well outside of their warranty, as the cost to fix retro handheld devices or smaller electronics in particular can far outweigh the perceived initial savings that you may think you’re getting when purchasing from a thrift store.”
Household Appliances or Devices
Many household appliances and devices found at thrift stores can also be more trouble than they’re worth. This includes things like used vacuum cleaners, coffee makers, blenders, and other electronics.
With a secondhand vacuum cleaner, for example, you could end up with something that needs a new filter or bag. Or the device itself might not suction up debris as well as it should. By the time you’ve replaced what needs replacing, you might not be saving much money — or any at all.
Other kitchen and household electronics, like coffee makers or microwaves, can also be faulty. Use caution when purchasing these types of items secondhand.
Where To Shop Instead of Thrift Stores
If you’re looking for cheap electronics, there are several other options to consider, such as:
- Online marketplaces: Sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or eBay can be good thrift shop alternatives. Just make sure you go with a seller who’s responsive and has good reviews.
- Sites or shops with warranties: “My advice is to purchase from vetted sites with a proven track record of successful refurnishing, particularly if they offer a warranty as standard with retro refurbished electronics,” said Woodyatt.
- Other storefront retailers: Sometimes, even major retailers like Best Buy or Big Lots offer good deals on electronics. Keep an eye out for these the next time you need to purchase something.
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