Back Market, Remade… The stunts and enigmatic works of refurbished smartphones

White coats, neon lights and silence… We are not in the surgical emergency room, but in the Etancia workshops. Here, in the middle of the Angevin countryside, about thirty employees operate 700 old smartphones with open hearts every day. The tasks performed require focus, especially when the battery needs to be replaced – a seven-minute maneuver. “You have to go slowly: if you pierce it, it can explode,” one repairman explains, while taking off the lithium rectangle. This happened to him once, as evidenced by the black aura on his work table.

In this case, to limit damage, “we immediately put the smartphone in a bag that traps the heat, and everyone goes out. But this is rare, about once a year”, explains the production manager. Most of the time, dealing with it is not that complicated. A series of tests are run on 30 to 50 control points to make sure everything is working before leaving for a second life.

Such a company, which will soon expand its headquarters, players who are rehabilitating the business are unlikely to see weakness. While the new smartphone market fell 6.5% in France in 2018, according to research institute GfK, sales of used phones jumped 7% in the same year, i.e. 2.1 million units sold. This means that one in ten French people now choose a second-hand device … There are many reasons for this enthusiasm, mentioned by Thibaud Hug de Larauze, co-founder of Back Market: “The history of best-selling phones two years ago, now available at almost half the price With a guarantee…

This approach tempts, beyond environmental enthusiasts. The discounts are really great, for products that are generally satisfactory. Pioneers see their intuition rewarded: Back market, re-trade and remanufacturing, in the lead, thrive. They are available online and with distributor partners. But everyone gets into it. You can now find recycled iPhones and Samsung devices directly at telecom operators, in supermarkets and department stores (Boulanger, Fnac Darty or Electro Dépôt), and in historical electronic stores (Amazon, Cdiscount or Veepee, former Venteprivee.com). The many options can be bewildering, especially since this market is not the most transparent.

The first unknown is the origin of these smartphones. It is impossible to know when buying. Buyers prefer iPhones, which are considered powerful, the prices of which in new condition exceeded more than 1,000 euros. The little secret in this sector is that to get very large quantities of second-hand, you have to get supplies from the US – where Yuan Valence and Laurie Cohen, co-founders of Certideal, get supplies first. “We have contracts with US operators. There, people pay expensive packages, with the phone replaced regularly.

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Abandoned, low-wear appliances delight renovators. This is also true for Remade, which is 100% focused on Apple products. This heavyweight sold 500,000 units in France last year, for about 140 million euros in turnover. Ludovic San Aruman, director of marketing, says he prefers the big suppliers: “operators, insurance companies and wholesalers, American and European.”

Other sources of supply exist, sometimes even more random. At Certideal, 15% of the devices processed are old models for customers, so they get a discount on their new purchases. Other models come from big physical retailers: Boulanger sends them, for example, smartphones returned by customers, checkout cases, and exhibition models. It’s more diversified for Back Market, a site that launched in France in 2014 and is already in the US, Germany, Spain and Italy (€230 million in turnover last year).

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As a marketplace, you aggregate offers from a wide range of merchants. There are small suppliers, such as Angevin Itancia, that are all ranked according to their reliability. Itancia scores well, particularly by equipping itself with “corporate fleets”: professional smartphones are changed regularly, and are generally in good shape. Finally, a surprise: some of the best reverse market providers are small second-hand shops, cash converters, or EasyCash. Experts, and respondents, are often highly rated.

Buyers are also largely unaware of the actual working condition of their new phone. All the sellers explained that they have run many tests on the recalled smartphones in their workshops. They check that microphones, speakers, and a camera or monitor are turned on. But it is impossible to know, for example, whether the smartphone screen has been repaired – a process that often leads to malfunctions or display problems. Markets try to advertise the color as closely as possible by offering levels of quality, from ‘new’ to ‘huge scratches’. Above all, they offer reassuring guarantees and promise quick responsive after-sales service.

At Back Market, an algorithm highlights the best sellers, with the help of 50 Purdue employees responsible for monitoring the reliability of these independent merchants. This effort allowed the site to split the downtime rate, within six months of purchase, by two: 10% of products last year, versus 5% today. Remaid, in its high-tech factory based in Avranches (Manche), has opted for a cutting-edge approach. All received smartphones are disassembled, cleaned, polished and reprocessed in chemical baths by 500 workers. Even the rear structures have been repainted and remade to strengthen the aluminum, and all models are re-equipped with a new battery …

Because the big black spot in this market remains the battery issue, which is sometimes very defective and unable to last a day. This is the problem that disgruntled people often point out on online forums. Certideal offers any customer the option to choose a new battery for an additional 25 euros, its “cost price” (a quarter of buyers do). In Back Market, “it must be at least 80% equal to the new product, otherwise it will be very disappointing for the consumer.” Same policy at Itancia: “Philosophically, if we eco-cycle, it would be absurd to change all the batteries when they are 80% good,” confirms Lionel Trotisel, Marketing Director. The irony: on the day of our site visit, a large selection of iPhones from the US offered 100% new batteries, already replaced by another service provider …


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