The refurbishment of consumer electronics in the circular economy

The Challenge

Refurbishing consumer electronics at an industrial scale brings quality, speed and knowledge challenges.

We decided to explore this topic following one of our team member’s experiences at an electronics subscription platform and in e-commerce. We can observe a growing trend of refurbished smartphones and a growing circular economy. This new trend of refurbishing electronics products is growing fast and after visiting a factory for refurbishment, we understood the difficulties that this company experienced day to day to deliver its products as good as new, especially:

  • Immediately detecting what needs to be refurbished
  • Speeding up the process (manual, lots of pieces to order)
  • Ensuring traceability

As refurbishment can be a wide topic, we focused on consumer electronics. 

Our  Process

We followed our “Discovery” and “Problem definition” methodology to approach the challenges we thought to be relevant.

Discovering problematics is the foundation we build solutions on. This is the most crucial phase for finding a pressing problem to solve and figuring out who it is a problem for. Understanding who you are solving it for sets the trajectory for the whole project. This is also where we ensure product-market fit and that we are building a solution customers want to buy. This is the more exploratory section of the problem finding phase.  At first, we tried to discover and understand this market by researching online and most importantly by holding initial conversations with stakeholders to confirmation we were heading the right direction.

After mapping initial market dynamics, stakeholders, competitors we conducted interviews more intensively. 

After 15 interviews, we managed to get a thorough understanding of the market we were in.

We managed to:

    • Refine the stakeholder interactions and personas
    • Map the entire refurbishment process
    • Identify overall target market, define target customers and their needs
    • Identify consequences of the problem being solved per stakeholder
    • Get a closer look at the competition
    • Evaluate assumptions for the ideation phase
    • Estimate the potential market size: Volume and value

The  Outcome

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During the interviews, we realized the varying levels of efficiency in speed and quality in the industry are mostly related to the level of maturity of the refurbishment centres. Some big players are structuring the market with internal expertise, self-made software and self-defined grading systems to ensure quality and quantity of refurbished products.

The market is new and promising but low margins and brand power make sourcing products to repair highly competitive. The price inconsistency and the difficult access to spare parts make the industry focus on a few select products.

The essence of the business is access to working capital and making sure refurbishers recoup their investment.

The big players are about to dominate the market and thereby structuring the refurbishment techniques and best practices.

The tremendous lack of traceability will have to be fixed with 3rd party grading and legislation.

For all these reasons, we decided not to enter the market.

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