Refurbished phone: smarter than the latest model

Which iPhone is the ‘smartest’? Perhaps the refurbished one that looks like a brand new phone. It is cheaper, more environmentally friendly and for some clients much cooler than the latest generation model. Second-hand premium smartphones: it’s time to talk about this growing trend and business.

The interview with Stéphane Mermillod, Sales Director at the French company Remade that refurbishes hundreds of thousands of used iPhones annually, was conducted at Mobile World Congress 2018, the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry. A transcript of this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Stéphane Mermillod, Sales Director at Remade. Has Remade been specializing in refurbishing smartphones since the beginning of the company?
Stéphane Mermillod: At the beginning, Remade was doing after-sales services of bigger devices such as TV sets, washing machines, etc. In reality, refurbishing different models of home appliances in an industrial process is very difficult business, and the company wasn’t in the best condition. The founder of Remade has been knowing all along that the general concept of refurbishing devices is good, but he realised that he was giving a second life to wrong objects. About four years ago he decided to focus on refurbishing iPhones.

Why iPhones?
The Apple brand is very strong. Only iPhones maintain a good price during the product life cycle. Iphones allow us to do our job and to sell them with a good profit margin.

What is exactly Remade’s job?
We refurbish used iPhones from A to Z. The entire process is conducted in our factory in France. We disassemble devices, repair iPhone’s screens, motherboards and back covers, and then we re-assemble devices. After that, they look like brand new phones.

Do you also handle cameras and batteries?
By saying that we repair motherboards, I mean that we handle many different components, including cameras, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and others. Naturally, we do not repair batteries, we install new ones. We have a Chinese supplier for replacement batteries, they are certified by an independent laboratory in Germany.

What other components do you buy from your suppliers?
The glass for screens. Most of the broken LCDs only need a new glass. We separate the broken glass from the intact LCD layers and put a new glass.

How about the back covers? The most of used iPhones have many scratches.
We refurbish original back covers. This is what is special about Remade. We un-anodise aluminium back covers and we polish the raw aluminium. After that we re-anodise and colour every back cover. It may sound like painting, but it’s a bit more complicated. This is a chemical process.

However, if you just re-anodise a back cover, you may have some problems with the phone’s functionality. The back cover is an electric part of an iPhone. It is connected to the motherboard and the antenna. We need to use a laser to make the back cover 100% functional. Nobody has told us how to do it right, we had to learn everything by ourselves. We have a strong R&D team in France. On the video that we display at the MWC, you can see how many efforts we put into refurbishing every single back cover [the video is also available on YouTube, please see below – ed.].

If it is so complicated, why don’t you just replace back covers with new parts?
It is prohibited. It is OK to refurbish an original Apple back cover, and we do that, but we can’t replace them with fake parts. There are some companies that do this, but we don’t. We use original back covers that we refurbish ourselves. We avoid all problems you can have with iPhones that are refurbished with fake parts.

What about all these small numbers, letters and symbols you can find on every back cover?
The chemical process erases all original writings from back covers that are being refurbished. We rewrite all numbers, letters and symbols with a laser on every single back cover.

You use only original back covers, but some iPhones from Remade are finished in colours that are not offered by Apple.
When you anodise aluminium, you are able to finish it with many colours. We use colours offered by Apple. On every product that goes beyond the Apple’s official colours palette, we write a line: ”Customised by Remade – Limited Edition”.

How many iPhones do you refurbish annually?
In 2017, the number was in between 600.000 and 700.000 pieces. In 2018 we plan to refurbish a little bit less than 1 million iPhones.

That’s a huge number. What does Apple say about Remade?
They understand that we sell Apple products that do not exist in their price range. Apple does not sell an iPhone for less than 400 euros, but we do. They know that every time a refurbished iPhone is sold to somebody, they get a new client for their digital services such as AppStore, iTunes, Apple Music and Apple Pay. It means that they do not have to go under 400 euros per phone to compete with Samsung or Huawei and to get new clients for their services.

Who is your supplier of used iPhones? From where do you take so many of them?
We buy most of the devices from mobile carriers. The leasing programs for iPhones are very popular in the US. After one year, a client brings his or her mobile phone to the operator, and get a brand new one. Then carriers organise bidding offers for large quantities of used iPhones. We also buy some phones from, for example, insurance companies and big retailers, when they upgrade phones for many of their employees and have many used iPhones for sale.

How can you be sure that iPhones you buy come from a legal source and were not, for example, stolen?
When we bring a device to our factory, we connect it to the system and check by IMEI number if it was stolen or not.

You buy most iPhones in the US, but where do you sell them?
We sell Remade iPhones mainly in Western EU countries. They are available online and at large chain stores such as Fnac, Auchan, and others.

Remade’s stand at Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona.

Do you think that buying a refurbished iPhone will be someday as cool as buying a high fashion from a trendy second-hand boutique?
Today the main reason why people buy a refurbished iPhone is the lower price. However, I believe that more and more clients will choose used mobile devices for environmental reasons. The production of a new iPhone generates around 100 kg of CO2. Refurbishing an iPhone by Remade generates about 15 kg of CO2. It is about many kinds of savings, not only money. I think that all big smartphone brands will officially sell refurbished phones, as it benefits their brand image.

How in your opinion may the smartphone business change in upcoming years?
In my opinion, in the next decade, most smartphones will come from Apple, Samsung and second-hand market. All other brands will occupy the fourth and further positions.


To find more pictures and videos from Mobile World Congress 2018, please visit my Instagram: #TrendNomadMWC18.

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