As part of Google U.K.’s strategic insights team, Gerald Breatnach and Carla Puttini use consumer research and data to provide insight on the biggest trends shaping marketing.
The priorities of British consumers are changing. In 2023, search interest for the topic “used goods”, including the terms “second hand’ and “pre-loved” was up over 70% compared to the year before. While this trend is visible across many verticals, from high-end fashion to flat-pack furniture, search data indicates particular momentum in consumer tech.
As sustainability trends and cost-of-living challenges coincide, search interest for “refurbished phone” is currently at an all-time high, growing much faster than search interest for “phone” in general.1
Our new research found there is still work to be done in creating awareness and trust in the refurbishing process. However, for brands that can overcome these barriers, the trend presents significant opportunities — both to grow their business and reposition themselves for more circular business models.
Sustainability meets savings
Unlike categories where sustainability might come with a higher price tag, refurbished, second-hand tech allows shoppers to lessen their environmental footprint while saving money.
Our survey found that 41% of people bought refurb because it’s cheaper, 35% because they can get a better product for less, and 15% because it’s better for the environment.2
This supports Google research that shows sustainability is often not enough to shape purchase decisions alone — but when combined with other attributes, such as quality and price, it can be a tiebreaker.
Shoppers also see refurb as a way to get the best brands at a better price. When looking for refurbished tech products, people are more likely to search for specific brands versus generic electronic goods.
In our survey, only 9% of U.K. consumers said they prioritise owning the most up-to-date models.3 This means there's a large potential market of people who would prioritise saving money over cutting-edge technology when it comes to tech.
Building trust in the process
If people are looking to save money, are happy to go without the newest smartphone or laptop, and would like to do their best for the planet, what’s holding them back from buying refurbished tech more often? In our U.K. consumer survey, 32% cited a lack of trust in the refurbishing process.4
We can see that brands and retailers are working hard to develop this trust as they build initiatives for refurbished goods and repairs, including dedicated website areas, like Dyson Renewed, or informative online content, like Shark’s refurb tips.
Putting refurb top of mind
While interest in second-hand tech is growing, 27% of our survey respondents still said they have never previously considered it. This provides brands and retailers with a significant opportunity to drive demand and shape the market.
Back Market, one of France’s most valuable startups, is an international online marketplace for refurbished devices. In the U.K., one of its fastest-growing territories, it uses YouTube advertising to boost awareness and sell the benefits of refurbished electronics (while poking fun at those who spend more on the latest tech). They also have an educational hub with key information about the environmental impact of electronic waste.
What the “rise of refurb” means for marketers
This shift from focusing solely on one-off new sales to incorporating refurbished goods, servicing, and buy-back schemes represents a fundamental change in business models not just in tech but across retail verticals.
Marketers have a vital role in building awareness, educating consumers about the processes involved, and establishing trust. Campaign formats, such as Performance Max and YouTube Reach campaigns, can help increase the visibility of these schemes and share important messaging. And bidding models, such as broad match, can sharpen intent just as it’s beginning to form.
However, it’s critical that these tactics are backed up with a seamless customer experience and the same level of service expected when buying new.
Get this right, and “the rise of refurb” will offer new revenue streams, new ways to form meaningful and ongoing relationships with customers, and a new path to business growth — one with less impact on the planet.