Why do we buy our technology new? This is a question I’ve been toying with over the last few months.

Technology is expensive but increasingly reliable.  It seems strange then, that a reputable second-hand marketplace has not developed.  Surely this is a massive opportunity for tech companies?

E-waste: a growing problem

Today most users have little choice other than buying new technology products.  The alternative is sites such as eBay and Shpock.  But anyone that has tried to buy or sell a mobile phone on sites like these know the issues: will the product be as described?  Will it have a warranty?  How can I trust that I will get what I am promised?  Faced with this uncertainty, most people opt for new.

The problem is the amount of waste that the electronics industry then creates.  According to the Energy Saving Trust, the electronics industry could prevent 1 million tonnes of e-waste and save 14 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by recycling resources more effectively.  This is just one single shocking statistic.  Consider the following from the Royal Society of Chemistry:

    • In 2016, the global amount of e-waste reached an all-time high of 44.7 million tonnes – this is double the amount from five years before
    • If we continue to consume and discard at the current rate, the United Nations University (UNU) predicts an increase of up to 120 million tonnes in the next 30 years.

Changing attitudes?

A recent survey conducted by analyst company CCS Insight revealed that only five percent of mobile handset buyers in the UK and US had purchased a refurbished device. In the survey ‘refurbished’ was categorised as devices returned to “as new” condition. In many cases refurbished devices may even be unused stock or handsets returned unopened – essentially new products at a discounted rate.

The positive news was, when people were asked about their future intentions, more than 55 percent said they would consider buying a refurbished product. Clearly the demand is there, it’s now up to the market to fulfil it.

A trusted refurbished brand

I’m surprised by the reluctance of the industry to embrace the opportunity for refurbished products. Surely the likes of Apple, with large numbers of retail outlets and access to huge volumes of stock to recycle must see this as an addressable market. Apple devices are much more expensive than other competitors but come with a strong reputation for reliability and longevity, particularly in the laptop market.  By offering an option for people to buy refurbished devices, Apple could extend its premium brand to a wider audience and do something positive for the environment.

It seems incredible that, in a world where the impact of consuming Earth’s natural resources is the political issue of the time, brands are not queueing up to create a reliable and trusted refurbished brand. There’s a significant opportunity for the first mover in this market.