Open-box bargains

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You know how the online Apple Store has a refurbished section ? Did you know that the brick-and-mortar stores do as well? I recently had the pleasure of buying an open-box iBook battery at a Bay Area Apple Store.

For the last several weeks, it seemed that my iBook battery had a life of its own. It would suddenly drop from 15 percent to zero in a minute or two. And I started to wonder if the battery itself was dying on me, permanently.

So I fired up the ol’ Coconut Battery, a slick piece of freeware that tells you how many times the battery has cycled through. (Read the   -review in Dan Frakes’ Mac Gems weblog.) Sure enough, in the 13 months that I’d owned my iBook, my battery had been charged 279 times, and had reduced its capacity down to 25 percent of what it had been. That meant that my iBook was now only going for a little more than an hour on the battery, instead of the normal three to four hours.

What was I to do? I could fork over $129 for a new Apple battery at any of the Bay Area Apple Stores. But that’s a lot of dough to spend at once. Then I remembered the power of open-box merchandise—stuff that’s been returned to the store in perfect working order within the 14-day return period. It’s still covered under warranty, it just can’t be sold as new. More important, such merchandise is usually sold at a greatly reduced price.

Open-box items aren’t advertised or displayed. You just have to know to ask for them, like the secret menu at In-N-Out Burger.

When I called around to the nine Apple stores within a 50 mile radius of my home in Oakland, it was just my luck that only the store farthest away, in Santa Clara had what I wanted. That store had an open-box 14-inch iBook battery. Usual retail price? $129. Open-box price? $69.95.

I told the clerk to hold one for me and drove the 40-plus miles to Santa Clara without hesitation. And my iBook is back to running at full-power for considerably less than I would have had to spend for an unopened box.

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