Everyone looks for the best deal to save money when making a purchase, especially if it’s gadgets, as their prices have shot up over the years.
According to enthusiasts like PC builder and technician Nicholas Tan, this has even become a trend for younger people, as the pandemic made laptops a necessity for remote learning.
“With enough patience and the right amount of good luck, you could score deals on tech items that are almost brand new for a significantly lower price, which is a big deal when you’re a student trying to cut costs,” he says.
Multiple preloved tech marketplace groups have sprung up on social media and amassed thousands of members, covering everything from laptops to smartphones.
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Hazwan Dani Abdul Kadir, administrator of PC Gaming Community Malaysia, a Facebook group with over fifty thousand members, further shared the state of the pre-owned market in Malaysia.
“The market for used laptops and smartphones in Malaysia is massive, there are always people looking for a bargain.
“This can range from students, people looking for an upgrade, those in the repair business, and PC shops looking to sell their custom computers or clear older stocks,” he said.
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Deals are not limited to laptops and smartphones, with preloved communities centred around photography, audio equipment and game consoles.
However, the pre-used market for audio products in Malaysia is quite small and more niche, said Willy Wong, co-owner of the Stars Picker Audio Library.
“But it’s still growing, and buyers will be able to pick things up for a huge discount, maybe even half the price or lower compared to brand new items,” she added.
She said local HiFi stores tend to sell their demo units after a while, so it would be worth reaching out to check what they have for sale.
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Some sellers also choose to leave their audio gear on display at the Stars Picker Audio Library in Petaling Jaya, allowing potential buyers to try before they buy without needing to schedule a meetup.
At times, it may even be possible to get a warranty when grabbing a deal, according to Azlil Shah Shaharuddin, a seller of pre-owned video games and consoles in the online community.
“Buyers come to the second-hand market mainly because of the price, but at times, the items can seem like they are too cheap to be true and that is what scares them off.
“It’s up to sellers like myself to give them some form of assurance that our wares are legitimate – which is why more established sellers tend to offer a personal warranty, which lets people know that buying from us is safe.
“Buyers can also look at the average market price of a video game title or console to see whether the item is suspiciously cheap,” he says.
Azlil Shah has operated Kyo’s Game Mart since 2007 and runs a stand at the flea market in Amcorp Mall on the weekends.
Photographer Emillio Daniel also touched on the topic of collector’s markets – held at malls like Amcorp Mall, Paradigm Mall and Atria Shopping Gallery – saying that they are solid options for pre-loved photography gear.
“Even if you are not very knowledgeable about an item, a lot of the time, sellers there are willing to help guide customers through purchases.
“A buyer might just be browsing through someone’s collection without preplanning a purchase, and the seller would offer advice on what buyers can Google to read up on the spot on the topic or a specific product,” he says.
Some, however, shy away from even considering the prospect of buying used tech.
According to Mohamed Zulhanafi Yunos, from the Setapak Cash Converters, it all comes down to a lack of knowledge.
“Not everyone is tech-savvy enough to tell if a device is in good condition or not, and that is what keeps them away from the second-hand market.
“They worry about buying faulty electronics without knowing, or even worse, being scammed into buying either a broken or fake item by unscrupulous sellers,” he said.
Mohamed Zulhanafi added that a prior bad experience with second-hand tech items, along with a lack of warranty, are other factors that turn people off from buying pre-loved gadgets.
This makes it essential that anyone dipping their toes into the second-hand market is knowledgeable and able to spot bad deals.
The bulk of deals on items like smartphones and laptops can be found online and the sites Tan checks are second-hand marketplaces like Carousell and Facebook groups.
Those new to the scene may end up wondering if a listing is a good deal or a scam, how much lower they could negotiate the price down to, and how they can tell if something is in good condition or not – so what do tech enthusiasts who regularly dabble in the marketplace do to stay safe?
ALSO READ: A quick introduction to buying a second-hand smartphone
Enthusiasts recommend that buyers always test an item to make sure it works before committing to a purchase, but first they need to know what to check for.
Tan gave the example of buying a used iPhone, where a seller may insist that the battery is in good condition.
“If a customer isn’t aware of what to check, they might take the seller at face value, without knowing that Apple has a built-in battery health indicator in the Settings menu.
“So it’s key that shoppers make sure that they know about these sorts of things, and that takes both research and experience,” he explained.
Hazwan Dani advised shoppers to never rush into buying something and to do extensive research on the specs and the market price of the product beforehand.
“An important part of the process is taking the time to read up on the item that you are interested in buying – be it a PC part, a laptop, or even a smartphone.
“Otherwise, you end up without a point of reference to tell if the item is fairly priced or if buying a new item instead would be a better deal,” he says.
At times, doing this research may involve chasing a trail to make sure that everything checks out.
Shift to thrift
Wong urged buyers to first search online and check if that particular model has been counterfeited before, and if it has, to make sure that the seller has proof of purchase from an authorised dealer or distributor.
“Some brands or models might have a higher return rate due to parts failure, which isn’t the fault of the seller, but buyers should be keen on reading up on reviews and feedback from others,” she explained.
These are thoughts that are shared by Emillio Daniel, who claimed that for photography equipment – which includes digital camera bodies, lenses, and even vintage film cameras – people tend to prefer buying second-hand.
“No one starts off knowing everything when it comes to pre-owned tech, people only become experts when they do their due diligence.
“Those new to the scene may struggle at times when it comes to checking the condition of camera gear, since this may require quite advanced knowledge at times,” he said.
Azlil Shah placed an emphasis on finding reputable sellers, especially those that are transparent and open to sharing knowledge with newbies.
“Purchasers should make a habit of asking about the condition of the item, where it came from, and how long it was used by the previous user.
“In the rare cases where a seller acts cocky and is unwilling to share information, you probably don’t want to be dealing with this person, even if it is a very good deal,” he said.
He went into further detail, explaining that buyers should always do a background check on the seller by looking them up on Google for feedback from other buyers or even giving them a call to verify what they are selling.
Buyers should also not be shy about asking around in groups and communities about a specific seller to make sure that he or she is trustworthy, he said.
It is also recommended that new buyers choose cash on delivery (COD).
“This gives them a chance to physically meet up with the seller and inspect the product up close.
“That way, if you are happy with the item, then you can hand over the money, and everyone parts ways with the mutually agreed-upon price,” said Hazwan Dani.
He acknowledged that sometimes dealing in person may not be an option due to distance.
Emillio Daniel said that some sellers may not be upfront about the condition of an device, leaving buyers unable to tell if the condition is as good as claimed without a physical inspection in-person.
When inspecting a product, Wong encouraged inexperienced buyers to avoid items in bad condition, as this may indicate that it may have deteriorated internally as well.
If at any point there’s confusion or any uncertainty about a listing, users can always reach out to other more experienced members of the community.
“The scene is very community-based, and while you might not be aware of the common defects of an item, someone else in the group might, so it’s always worth asking when you’re unsure,” said Azlil Shah.
Opting for used electronic devices goes beyond saving money – some are in search of stuff they aren’t able to get anywhere else.
For photography enthusiasts, it would be vintage film cameras produced decades ago that were taken off the assembly line before some were even born.
“There are cheap plastic film cameras and lower-end reusable cameras still being manufactured today, but if you’re after something more versatile with higher quality parts, your only option would be to ‘go used’.
“Though there are companies still manufacturing large format cameras, the lenses themselves are not made anymore, with even the most modern large format lenses having come out in the early 1990s,” Emillio Daniel said.
Azlil Shah said it’s the same case for old video games and consoles, as they are no longer being manufactured but are missed by fans.
“Older games will likely be more pricey though, since they have, in a way, become collector’s items and some people are willing to buy non-working units just to put them on display,” he added.
However, with the surge of ewaste across the globe, buying new may have a bigger impact on the planet than on your wallet.
A study conducted by Counterpoint Research stated that users in Malaysia tend to replace their devices every 22 months, or just a little under two years.
According to the 2020 Global Ewaste Monitor Report from the United Nations University, Malaysia generated 364,000 tonnes of ewaste in 2019.
Tan recommended that opting for pre-loved goods could help deal with the problem of ewaste, suggesting starting small for the next purchase.
For those that are thinking of doing that, here is a quick recap on what to look out for when buying used goods: Always test the items before buying whenever possible; be an informed buyer by researching before a purchase; vet sellers by checking if they have good reviews or are trusted in the community; and ask a senior member of the community for advice or to even tag along when making a deal.