Last fall, an eBay shop opened up offering Apple Certified Refurbished products at identical prices to those offered by Apple, with rumors suggesting that the shop was quietly being run by Apple itself. Recently, the shop began undercutting Apple’s own online store on some items, and I decided to look a little more closely at what this “Refurbished-Outlet” store might be.
I figured I could easily place an order to get access to contact information for the seller and data on where the orders were being shipped from, perhaps providing clues about who was actually running the operation. So I placed my order for a refurbished iPod touch and waited it for to arrive.
The first bit of information came in the form of a confirmation email from the seller listing a contact address at refurbishedoutlet.net. While there is no website located at that address, the domain is registered to Liquidity Services, the wholesale and surplus distribution company behind Liquidation.com.
Liquidation.com operates four warehouses in the United States, including one in Plainfield, Indiana just a few miles from the Indianapolis airport. Upon receiving UPS tracking information for my order, I saw that it was originating from the Indianapolis airport, bolstering the appearance that my entire transaction was being handled by Liquidity Services.
Two days later my order arrived, and I picked it up off of my front porch just as the UPS driver was pulling away in his truck. The package had a Plainfield, IN return address corresponding to Liquidation.com’s warehouse, although it seemed rather lighter than I expected.
As I began to open the package, I noticed that cardboard at one end of the box had been torn and re-taped, and upon opening it up completely, I discovered that the white iPod touch refurb box itself had been torn open and all of the contents removed.
With that development, my investigation into Refurbished-Outlet became a bit more complicated as I had to deal not with a straightforward return but also with a theft claim. I notified UPS, who collected the package the following day, and also followed up with Refurbished-Outlet, who initially responded with an auto-reply email that included a link to Secondipity, another Liquidity Services business. Fortunately, the process was a simple one, with Refurbished-Outlet promptly offering a replacement shipment and only requesting some photos to help with the investigation.
So who is behind these sales of Apple Certified Refurbished products on eBay? If it’s Apple, they’ve outsourced essentially the entire operation to Liquidity Services. Secondipity notes only that it has “access to store returns and excess inventory from merchants from all around the world, including seven of the top 10 U.S. retailers.” Apple ranked as the 21st largest U.S. retailer based on 2011 sales numbers, but that of course says nothing about whether or not Apple has a direct partnership with Liquidity Services.
And in the most recent development, Refurbished-Outlet now appears to have shut down its eBay store, with the store page simply directing to an FAQ about what to expect from certified refurbished products. The eBay account remains open, but is currently offering no products for sale after having removed its remaining 25 products at 8:27 PM Pacific Time on March 30.