Why I'd Never Buy a Refurbished Phone, Despite Working In a Repair Centre

By Commenter Re Pairer on at

Let's start by NOT taking my lead from Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning; the private sector doesn't reward whistle-blowing any more than the public sector does. For the purposes of this article I'll have to remain anonymous, so you'll just have to imagine Morgan Freeman's voice coming out of Alan Partridge's mouth, or something.

Portable electronics insurance is a big business in the UK with its turnover hingeing on whether you think paying a 'clumsy tax' is a worthwhile investment for a palm-sized, used-car-priced lifestyle extension with increasingly shorter lifespan (Just look at HTC's abandonment of its devices with less than 1GB RAM, less than a year into the HTC One V's release). Unfortunately because of the increasing complexity of the devices, the margins on actually repairing the phones are razor thin: Warranty is the goose that lays the golden egg and determines whether you get a polite letter explaining how you dunking your phone in a toilet isn't our problem OR you get cash money.

QUICK! Name the two most profitable companies in the world now at each other throats: Yep, between Samsung and Apple they pay the bills on site, and in turn determine the rules of engagement when it comes to payouts on a device. The trouble with paying to train people erodes a potentially-massive Scrooge McDuck-sized pot of gold staring at you: Enter the Temps. We are now the backbone of cheap labour for products of an elastic nature -- that is to say, you don't need one but you'll club a baby seal just be at the front of the queue. Our very nature was the subject of a rather one-sided Parliamentary debate on the pros and cons of employing people to do skilled jobs; only recently did an MP call out rail contractors for potentially putting the public at risk by hiring temps. However, don't think for a second that we aren't diligent in repairing your handsets; it's because of general incompetence by our permanent contract cohorts that we've even got jobs.

Some of the horror stories I could share are the usual fare: Massive cosmetic damage being passed through without a second thought; pornography-laden handsets; people's lives documented in shitty text speak. The thing that trumps all is unwillingness to stick to processes set out by niche manufacturers because of the 800 pound South Korean gorilla huffing and puffing over everyone's necks. The bumrush to get handsets out the door leads to inevitable conflict between the money men and people whose livelihoods depend on continuing competence. When it comes down to it, the perspective taken is that you've decided to knowingly buy a refurbished device, and in turn can expect 'As brand new' to mean 'Well, we tried'.

The atmosphere on site is like a ticking time-bomb, we don't know when or for what reason we're getting sacked, but it's coming. If a brand can't shift enough handsets to warrant keeping a line, *BOOM* out go the temps on that line, as recently happened with a struggling manufacturer. It get worse, since some of the failing lines are made of permanent staff, they have to be reallocated which can mean temps on unrelated work can be sacked just to make room for them. Speaking of permanent staff, the law states that temps are entitled to the same benefits as permanent workers. In my experience, that has so rarely been the case. Take too much time off and even if you bring in a doctor's note explaining why you legally cannot work, and you'll be sacked. There are currently two guys off sick with stress over the fact they didn't get parking spaces; I'll let you guess whether they're temps or not.

"But why wouldn't YOU buy a refurbished handset?" I hear you ask. Behind the curtains, the smoke and mirrors are people: Poorly paid, under-privileged, tired and ratty people that are there because, for now, it's cheaper to pay me and my peers to tear apart your handset, try to put it back as we found it, and then ship it out. We've not been given the proper tools or time to learn; instead like the monkey corpses from the various space shots which are no doubt circling the Earth in orbit, it was cheaper than doing it properly. So much of the refurbishment process hinges on human fallibility: 'Had a shit day' equals 'Produce shit phones', which go through the whole consignment process only to come back, putting you in an even worse mood. The cost to the manufacturers will one day become so unpalatable they'll pull the plug, and then we'll all be screwed.

Don't get me wrong, I applaud Samsung for having the balls to corner every market it's set out to build products for. Its decimation of Sony first in TVs, and then handsets, tells of a looming crisis for Samsung -- it's running out of space to grow. Its growth determines the future of our site, since Nokia, BlackBerry, HTC, LG and Sony can't compete with Samsung's vertically-integrated handset division which also supplies horizontally to all of them. The canary in the coal mine was data that showed Samsung's handset growth plateauing, meaning it can't outproduce or outpace anyone, and has decidedly left Apple in the dust in terms of raw sales: The ace in the hole is that Samsung doesn't really own any content in the way of Sony, or distribute it like Apple does. Moreover Samsung's Rabbi, Google, now has its own handset division so doesn't really need a hardware manufacturer to integrate so closely with. Tizen will be Samsung's future should Android go tits up; unfortunately it's yet to hit the radar of our bosses...Oh dear...

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Image Credit: Broken phone via Shutterstock