Are you planning to treat yourself to some gadgets? Consider These Sustainable Shopping Alternatives


If you’ve already started your holiday shopping, chances are there are at least a few gadgets on your list. And at least a few of them are probably for you.

A report released by the Consumer Technology Association last month predicted Americans would spend $ 142.5 billion on technology this holiday season, mostly on gifts for themselves. (Loved ones and spouses were right behind.)

Even if your purchases are well advanced, it is worth taking a moment to think about the technology you plan to purchase on your own. Do you really need the flashiest new gadgets Big Tech is bringing out this year? And if you do, do you need to hang on to it forever?

A pair of European start-ups trying to gain a foothold in the United States are advocating a more circular approach to buying technology. Berlin-based Grover wants you to think about renting your gadgets until you tire and send them back, while Back Market in Paris runs deals on refurbished gadgets to help remove the stigma that can accompany the second-hand purchase.

When you calculate the number of personal electronics that end up in landfills, these more sustainable ways to buy technology start to look a little more appealing. Here’s what you need to know about how these services work.

Rental and return

There are people – including me – who fall for the newest and flashiest gadgets, but ultimately don’t end up using them frequently. For them, Grover might be a viable option.

Grover, which launched in the US in September, offers a wide selection of gadgets, from gaming laptops and drones to its bread and butter, smartphones. But instead of buying them directly, Grover charges a recurring monthly fee based on how long you want to keep these products.

“All of the research we’ve done shows that the United States is much more likely to embrace technology with Grover than any other European country,” said founder and CEO Michael Cassau. “Including those where we are really big, like Germany.”

If you end up keeping these products long enough to pay a full price, Grover asks you to pay an additional dollar as a token gesture that grants you ownership. But that’s not really the point.

The main appeal of Grover is that you have an easy exit strategy for the moment you decide you no longer need what you paid for. Simply send it back to the company – then it’s cleaned, repaired or refurbished as needed, and made available to the next person who wants to try the product. Cassau said that on average devices like phones and laptops are sent to subscribers and come back three times before being taken out of service, although some products – like drones, which people tend to use for specific events – circle up to eight times. .

On a lark – and because I wanted to see if Apple’s pricey AirPods Max were worth the splurge – I signed up for the service myself. The process was as easy as it gets – you pick your product, choose how long you want to keep it, do a smooth credit check, and – assuming you’re not a major risk – you’ll receive a package within a few. days.

If the AirPods I ordered have been used before, there was no clear sign of this. They arrived sealed and charged, and paired perfectly with my iPhone. And it didn’t take long to confirm what I already suspected: they’re cool if you’re into Apple hardware, but personally I’d go with the Sony WH-1000XM4 instead.

For people who hold onto their possessions for a long time, Grover doesn’t make much sense. But if you’re one of the many gadget enthusiasts who are always on the lookout for newer and better options, Grover is a solid way to get your fix for a few months at a time. And after those headphones get a little worn out, it’s nice to know they won’t end up in a landfill because they weren’t for me.

Buy used gadgets

That said, it is in our collective interest to ensure that our technology is used for as long as possible. And Thibaud Hug de Larauze, founder of Back Market, has been working to bring old devices back to life since the service was launched in Europe in 2014.

There’s no shortage of places to buy used tech on the internet: Swappa is a great source for gadgets, and I always shop for retro phones on eBay. But Back Market – which expanded to the United States in 2018 – works a little differently. Rather than serving as a hub for individuals to sell their old stuff, Back Market liaises with a sprawling network of refurbishers and repair shops to get discounted prices on smartphones, tablets, and computers that deserve a deal. Second chance.

Of course, not all repair shops are equally trustworthy.

“Out of 100 sellers who apply to Back Market, we only accept 30%,” de Larauze said. After this initial request, reconditioners are required to complete a five-page technical survey of their repair process, then complete a trial period where they are limited to five sales per day for more than a month. Repair crews who try to outsmart the system or don’t offer products that meet the Back Market team’s standards, quickly get the boot.

In theory, this rigorous hearing should mean that most products on Back Market are up to the task, but you’ll still need to do some research. Each listing highlights the company that repaired or refurbished the product, including its location, number of items sold, and overall rating.

To keep you from falling into the weeds, Back Market uses an algorithm to highlight offers that it believes offer the best combination of price and overall device quality. (A phone rated “fair” will cost less but look definitely used, while a “great” product should look almost intact.) Just be aware that there are a few potential caveats.

For one thing, you almost certainly won’t get your gadget in its original packaging, and with all of its original parts, replacement batteries from third-party sources are very common. The nature of the site means it’s also not the place to go when looking for the hottest vacation products. To me, this became evident after delving into their website for a bit.

Turns out Back Market’s algorithmic curation system isn’t always perfect – the morning I spoke to de Larauze, the website was touting a deal on a refurbished Xbox Series S, a game console. which has become increasingly difficult to find at Christmas. approximate. The problem? Back Market was selling this used machine for $ 339.98, which is almost $ 40 more than what the same console would cost new. (After our conversation, Back Market quickly removed the list.)

Eventually, de Larauze wishes to close the loop by giving customers the possibility of reselling their old products to reconditioners via Back Market. The system is already live in the company’s native France and is expected to launch in the US in January – just in time to deal with a glut of gadgets that have just been replaced with new freebies.


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