With Refurbed you have created a platform for refurbished devices – from cell phones to notebooks, cameras to kitchen appliances and e-bikes. How did the business idea come about?
Kilian Kaminski: The foundation of Refurbed was a combination of professional and personal experience from me and my co-founders. I was at Amazon at the time and helped there Amazon Renewed Program to build in Europe and was mainly responsible for the build in Germany and Austria. I was responsible for marketing, PR, development of the quality criteria and the dealer connection. That gave me an insight into this industry. However, I quickly realized that a huge online marketplace like Amazon will probably only remain a niche for longer or possibly even longer.
Meanwhile, Peter Windischhofer, one of the two co-founders of Refurbed, had a negative experience buying a smartphone on a classified ad platform. Because his current model unfortunately no longer worked and he wanted to buy an ecologically justifiable smartphone, but not spend any fortune. He decided on a used iPhone, which broke after a few weeks. Without guarantee and warranty, he remained at his own expense. Looking for a better option, he remembered refurbished products that he knew from studying in the United States. After a short research, it was clear to both of us that these products must be part of our future and represent the best alternative to the throw-away society.
We also want to make a difference and ensure that the environment is treated in a sustainable manner. The idea for Refurbed was born: a platform for completely renewed and high-quality products, with uniform, high standards in terms of quality, price, security and guarantee. This should enable consumers to buy used equipment easily and without risk. Refurbed was founded in Vienna in 2017 together with Peter and Jürgen Riedl.
What is the concept behind Refurbed? Where do you get used equipment from and who will repair it?
Kilian Kaminski: Refurbed is an online marketplace for refurbished devices, i.e. completely renewed cell phones, laptops and tablets. These are up to 40 percent cheaper and 100 percent more sustainable. The customer orders online, has the device delivered to their home free of charge and has additional protection with a guarantee of at least twelve months and up to 36 months. Most of the devices on our platform come from companies or telecommunications providers, are then completely renewed by selected dealers in up to 40 steps and must then meet our high quality criteria in order to be included in the Refurbed Premium range.
The products offered by the respective retailer must therefore always be of the best quality. This is continuously checked and ensured by our team. Refurbed customers can also use the Refurbed customer service and they can also test the device for 30 days free of charge. There is therefore no significant disadvantage compared to a new purchase and you can easily choose the sustainable variant.
Anyone who looks at your website realizes that environmental protection plays a big role for your company. A tree is planted for each device sold. It can also be read that the CO2 emissions from a reprocessed device are significantly reduced. It all sounds very convincing. However, you only offer the devices online and cannot avoid a CO2-intensive supply chain via your dealer network, including returns. Wouldn’t it be important for environmental protection to point out and explain to customers about CO2 emissions when returning?
Kilian Kaminski: For me and my co-founders, environmental protection has been and still is a main driver in the foundation of this company. As you rightly point out, Refurbed is a purely online marketplace. We still manage to get a positive carbon footprint by selling our devices. Basically, CO2 emissions from logistics are only a very small emission driver for a device. Most of the emissions come from the extraction and production of raw materials, most of which are not caused by refurbishing.
Furthermore, it should be mentioned that all of our dealers are located in Europe and our delivery distances can therefore all be shipped by truck (in rare cases, in rare cases, sometimes by air freight). This means that we can keep the CO2 emissions here relatively low.
In addition, the CO2 emissions of the delivery of our devices are already included in the baseline model of the calculations for the CO2 emissions of our supply chain. Baseline model means an original model of a calculation. For us, this calculation includes the CO2 generated by the refurbish process, transport and use by the user and is measured in CO2 emissions in kilograms. If all these factors are taken into account, we can, as already mentioned, get out with every purchase with a positive CO2 balance.
What happens to used devices or individual components that can no longer be processed in your dealer network? How do you work with your dealers to ensure environmentally friendly disposal?
Kilian Kaminski: That depends very much on the type of device, we sell in different categories such as smartphones or notebooks, but also household appliances such as vacuum cleaners. The majority of our devices sold (these are smartphones) are either exhibits or company devices. This means that they arrive in large quantities at our dealers and have little to do with devices from private use in terms of their degree of wear. Therefore, there is no need to replace the main components in most devices. Of course, there are also devices with external signs of use or restrictions with regard to functionality. The display, case and / or battery are most often replaced with these devices, so that they look like new again and function completely. As you have already mentioned, this component replacement then results in CO2 emissions.
However, we can compensate for this burden by planting a tree on behalf of the buyer for each device sold. Together with the 70 percent CO2, which can be saved by eliminating a new production, we even manage to get out of CO2 positively, since the planted tree compensates for the remaining 30 percent CO2 emissions. If devices do not meet our quality standards at all, our dealers ensure that they are disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner and largely recycled.
Many modern recycling centers can fully utilize products such as smartphones. These are then broken down into their individual components: the battery is removed and disposed of, the rest is melted down to recycle gold, cobalt and other raw materials. In my opinion, the problem is not the efficiency of recycling, but that it is sometimes cheaper for companies to export their old devices to African countries instead of recycling them themselves.
What are the requirements for dealers who want to become part of your dealer network? And what do you value when choosing?
Kilian Kaminski: Right from the start, it was the most important criterion for us that our customers only get the highest quality devices and that we are a figurehead for uncompromising quality in the refurbished market. This led to the logical conclusion that we only select the best dealers and that we also strictly control these dealers regularly in order to ensure this quality in the long term. That is why there is a catalog created by us with quality criteria. Every dealer receives this at the beginning of a cooperation. Refurbed has its own department, which only ensures that these criteria are met and the quality of the refurbished devices and service is ensured.
Before you started Refurbed, you worked at Amazon. Your ideas about refurbished devices did not arrive there. What were the reasons for this?
Kilian Kaminski: I realized relatively quickly that the reason for starting such a program at Amazon was not that you want to do something good and want to offer customers a sustainable alternative to buying electronics. The reason was that customers who are looking for these products on Amazon should also find them on Amazon – and not go to Google and buy it elsewhere. This is the greatest danger for them, because the company itself says: “We’re the everything store” – everything should be found on Amazon. And they do that by launching this project.
However, the program on Amazon was not very advanced, while the problem of electronic waste continues to increase and production is fueling climate change. Personally, I am extremely convinced of the idea that sustainable electronic products and refurbished products must and will be the future. And if Amazon doesn’t want to implement this correctly, then we have to do this job with Refurbed.
Sustainability is playing an increasingly important role for end consumers. Consumers also want to know how their devices are manufactured and where the individual parts come from. In the CE electronics area in particular, it is hardly possible to trace the supply chains. The sources are too opaque – the extraction of cobalt is just one of many examples. What options are there to solve this problem in the long term?
Kilian Kaminski: The production of electronic devices by well-known companies such as Apple, Samsung or Huawei is of course designed for maximum profit and the highest possible sales volume. The average person buys a new smartphone every two years. In German households alone, around 124 million old mobile phones were lying around unused in 2018 and six out of ten smartphone users state that they bought their device last year. I think that shows the direction in which consumption is developing – I would say the throw-away society, especially in the electronic devices sector, is increasing more and more.
Of course, this sales pressure does not improve production conditions and the sustainable use of our environment. With Refurbed, we tried to find a sustainable solution that would not result in additional effort, waiver or loss of quality on the customer side. The only way we have a positive sustainable lever that is big enough to really make a difference is to at least double the product life cycle of electronic devices and thus save the immense CO2 emissions from the production of new devices. In addition, the disposal of harmful electrical waste, such as after Sodom in Africa, can be contained. In this simple and effective way, we are able to grow without consuming additional resources.
How can a company like yours provide decisive development aid?
Kilian Kaminski: Compared to new production, we consume negligibly small amounts of resources and do not emit any additional CO2 through the additional trees planted. We also try to motivate our customers to use the environment more sustainably through targeted content marketing via our social media channels. We always try to give incentives to rethink our own consumption and to find ways to live more sustainably in the electronics sector. I am also part of a consortium of experts on the subject of the circular economy of the European Union, regularly participate in panel discussions and international projects in order to do my part to ensure that society treats our environment in a more sustainable way in the future. Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to stop climate change, but we are working hard on it.
How will consumer buying behavior change in terms of sustainability? How do you think online retailers should react to this?
Kilian Kaminski: I think the trend among end consumers is clearly towards awareness of how to use resources and the environment. Through various information technologies, people have the opportunity to get information about everything and everyone completely transparently at the click of a mouse. It will therefore be an important key factor for companies in all industries to communicate openly. Although there are strengths or weaknesses in terms of ecologically sound corporate governance or social responsibility activities. As is well known, insight is the first way to get better.
What are the next steps you intend to take with your company? What can we expect from Refurbed in the future?
Kilian Kaminski: Our overarching goal is clear: to bring a Refurbed device into every European household. To do this, people first have to know this possibility for more sustainable consumption in the electronic field. That is why the strategy at the moment is to continue to create brand awareness and to promote internationalization. At the moment we are expanding and investing most intensively in the German-speaking countries. However, we are working in parallel on being able to offer Refurbed as a sustainable option in other European countries. Sustainable electronics should be made easily accessible and affordable for everyone.
At the end, would you tell us your personal concept for success? What makes you and your company so successful?
Kilian Kaminski: I think it is an enormously important factor, despite rapid growth and rapid developments, to always keep people in focus. Whether it is the end customers or our employees, the human component must never be neglected. Without our team and the trust of so many customers, we would never have gotten this far. I also think that a recipe for success can only work if you start to implement it. Unfortunately, many approaches that have the potential to make a difference in this world fail.
Personally, I would like more people to have the courage to actively tackle problems they recognize and work on improvements. Therefore, an open discourse in business about problematic conditions with regard to sustainability is essential in order to actually make a difference. Doing green washing while the opposite is happening behind the scenes of the big corporations, I think is no longer a way to stay in the mind of consumers in a sustainable positive way. (sg)
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