Back Market: saving the environment one phone at a time

Your smartphone is the most important gadget in your life, but do you really need to buy a new one every year? Tech companies certainly hope you will, but you should try and think beyond your craving for shiny new gadgets.

Consider the fact that electronic waste is a total nightmare on the environment, next time you’re on the market for a new handset. It’s also unnecessary waste because many old devices have parts that still work.

You see manufacturing, packaging and transporting electronics is a very energy-intensive process. So when you skip buying a new product, and instead buy one that’s already in circulation, you spare the planet from unnecessary greenhouse gases, and also reduce the demand for synthetic, non-biodegradable materials.

Although there are some risks associated with buying refurbished electronics, in many cases refurbished products can be a great steal, good as new devices that cost much less and last at least as long as their brand new counterparts.

The key to getting quality refurbished products is knowing where to look and who do to business with.

One of the companies which is trying to push the whole refurbished thing into the mainstream in recent years is Back Market. The startup aims to create an extended marketplace and amass all refurbishers into one platform. The service is available in select countries in Europe including France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, and Italy and has recently expanded to the US.

Back Market is a place where you can buy refurbished gear that has been certified refurbished. The startup works with companies to sell everything from smartphones and laptops, which are the most prominent product categories on the site, to game consoles, TVs, headphones and more.

We’ve recently sat down with Back Market, as we wanted to get a few insights into the company’s purpose and goals for the future.

Hi, tell us a bit about the company and the main idea behind it?

Launched in 2014 by Thibaud Hug de Larauze, Quentin Le Brouster, and Vianney Vaute, Back Market is the first marketplace focused on bringing certified, high-quality refurbished electronic devices and appliances to consumers.

The concept is straightforward; we want to bring legitimacy and trust to buying refurbished gear. In the process, we also address a significant environmental issue brought on by the e-waste crisis that is happening due to the volume of electronic products being produced and disposed of in unsustainable ways.

The 3 co-founders

The company currently operates in 5 European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Whoand Belgium) and launched in the United States at the beginning of this year.  It employs a team of about 100 employees across its 3 offices located in Paris, Bordeaux, and New York.

What inspired you to start this business?

Thibaud’s previous job was to plug merchants’ catalogs on big, general marketplaces. One day, he got a call from a refurbishing factory that wanted to list its products on eBay and Amazon. Intrigued, he paid this prospect a visit and was surprised to find a secret recess of incredible machines, all fine-tuned and made new again by people with an enormous amount of know-how and expertise. He was particularly impressed at the sophistication and skill that the refurbishers used and saw an opportunity to help them get access to more consumers.

He thought it was a shame that end-users would understand very little about these products, which would be categorized simply as second-hand devices in the marketplace. That’s when he realized that they, in fact, belonged to a category all on their own.

This was the seed that grew into a big idea: to build a one-stop shop, exclusively dedicated to refurbished electronics, curating the best of them, and showcasing the know-how and sense that differentiates and distinguishes these products from others. The idea was to deliver a ‘like new” buying experience to consumers, including things like extended warranties, money back returns and real customer service. He convinced two friends, Quentin and Vianney, to join his project. And in November 2014, Back Market was launched.

How do you select the devices that are to be sold via Back Market?

Back Market uses machine learning and data prediction to improve the experience for both merchants and consumers. We also have a rigid 23- point evaluation process for every product and supplier we use.

It’s important to us that the people coming to our marketplace can trust the suppliers they are getting products from. We look for the utmost in consistency, quality, and reliability from all the products we represent. We even have an in-house “doctor’ who performs regular testing of each supplier’s products to make sure they are up to our standards.

After compiling five years of historical data from more than 400 merchants and about 1,000,000 consumers, we have implemented robust machine learning techniques to help refurbishers foresee future demand, allowing them to purchase the right amount of stock for specific devices at the right prices.  By working with our suppliers in this way, we can anticipate demand and pricing, making the process more efficient on both the selling and buying end.

For customers shopping on the website, we have made great strides in quality through the development of our “buybox” method, which is enabled by a proprietary algorithm. Instead of displaying our entire catalog, like a traditional marketplace, we only display the single best product at any one time for a specific product model (SKU), taking into account not only price, but also the historical performance of every refurbisher (including customer service responsiveness, fail rates, etc.) among 14 other variables.

Why it’s important to address the global-waste problem and the fact that manufacturers always seem to be pushing us toward buying new products?

According to a recent UN report, the US produces about 6.3 million tons, or 14% of the world’s electronic waste. Worldwide, almost 45 million tons of electronics were tossed out in 2016. Out of that staggering amount of electronic waste, only 20% has been recycled in some shape or form. The remaining 80% made its way to a more environmentally damaging end at the landfill.

This is compounded by the planned obsolescence of manufactures and big brands releasing new models every year. The sheer volumes of e-waste (that continue to grow every year at a rate of 4% each year!) are impossible to cope with. The UN report points out that while there is an increased focus on recycling today compared to the past, the efforts to sustainably reclaim used devices simply can’t keep pace with the massive consumption rates for new devices. Therefore we cannot separate the tech industry’s issues from the larger societal issues.

Does newer automatically mean better?

We don’t think so, and that’s why we are fighting the planned obsolescence pushed on us by brands. In the past, we saw the consumer demand for this, and leaps in technological improvements to justify the new releases.

In recent years, however, companies like Apple have continued to release models that not only have disastrous environmental consequences but also wreak havoc on consumers’ budgets – and without introducing very much by way of innovation, to make these ‘revolutionary’ new models worth the costs.

That’s why Back Market recently introduced their #heretostay campaign, championing the iconic iPhone 6s, highlighting all the still-powerful features of the 6 series, and encouraging customers to re-embrace their love for the 6s rather than spend thousands to upgrade.

My colleague Matt gave the Black Market experience a shot, and you can find his thoughts on the experience below.

Buying refurbished

We recently went through the process of buying and returning a phone through Back Market to get the full experience. I have years of experience purchasing (and returning) devices from Craigslist, eBay, and Swappa so I’m familiar with the territory of used devices.

That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with my Back Market experience. First off, the site easy to navigate. I was able to find the device I was looking for (a first gen Pixel XL) in excellent condition within seconds of searching. I did look through the other listings just to see what was out there. I think that Back Market does a really good job of not only what’s available, but what condition it’s in too.

Once I made my choice, I walked through the simple check out process. I quickly received a confirmation email with some pretty non-standard language. I was informed that I’m a good person for purchasing a brand new refurbished device. I dig it. I get the value of sending a very standard confirmation email but little touches like this one just make the experience better. Do I think I’m a good person for buying this device? No, but it’s cool that the team took the effort to customize its emails.

The confirmation email also let me know which factory partner my refurbished device would be coming from and that it would be shipped out within 24 hours. Perfect.

I soon received a tracking number and before I knew it, the phone was on my doorstep. I opened it up, checked it out and turned it on. In the box, I found a third-party charger, cable, and a cheap pair of wired earbuds.

I was pretty happy that the phone functioned flawlessly and came in better condition than I expected. I didn’t buy the highest tier device I could because I wanted to see what you could get if you save a little bit of dough. But, despite that, the phone was in perfect condition.

I used the device for a couple weeks and then it was time to return it. I jumped back on Back Market’s site, went through an easy return process and Back Market pretty much handled everything from there. I received a return label and packed up the device to be sent back to the refurbisher. I had zero issues.

Conclusion

Back Market puts a fresh new spin on the idea of buying refurbished electronics. And you should definitely give the service a shot especially in the contemporary context of rising environmental awareness.

And while refurbished products often get a bad reputation, Back Market shows us a completely different facet of the industry. By focusing on quality above anything else, Back Market ships products that are as good as new, at a wallet-friendly price.

If you had any experience with Back Market before, let us know your impressions in the comment section below.

Try Back Market