Between professional product reviews, customer reviews, and videos of products online, it’s pretty easy to thoroughly research potential purchases before deciding what to buy. But sometimes, even after all that work, you get a product home and realize it isn’t quite what you wanted, or you tire of it after a week. Maybe an expensive Bluetooth speaker doesn’t sound great in your cavernous living room, or you lost interest in the Apple Watch after living with it for a few days. You’re lucky if you can return these opened and used items at all, and even if you can, you might face a restocking fee.
New try-before-you-buy and rental services for gadgets are tackling this very problem. They save you money by giving you first-hand experience with all the tech toys that you want to buy without actually requiring you to do so.
Cameras and More
Rental services are well established in the camera and video space, but they’re relatively new for a lot of other consumer technologies, such as drones. These services make it easier to test out devices for a fraction of what it would cost to buy them outright. They typically work like this: You find the products you want to try on the rental company’s website and pay a small fee that covers you having them for a set period of time. The products are delivered by mail, and your trial or rental starts when you receive them. If you send back the products, you pay for the time you had them. If you decide to keep a product, some portion of what you’ve already paid to rent it is usually deducted from the final price. In some cases, the company will send you a fresh product so you don’t have to keep the lightly used loaner.
Aarthi Ramamurthy is founder of Lumoid, a gadget trial service for fitness trackers, headphones, speakers, drones, and camera equipment. “For $20 or $30,” she told me by phone, “you can try out thousands of dollars’ worth of gadgets.”
Find the Right Fit
With certain kinds of electronics, she said, you want to buy the device that fits your lifestyle, and that’s near impossible to do without making it a part of your lifestyle for a few days first. High-end headphones, for example, are a popular item at Lumoid. Before you drop $200 or more on a set of headphones, you want to wear them on your head while using your equipment and playing your audio files.
Drone rentals, she said, are popular for a different reason. “A lot of our customers want to try it because it looks cool.” Borrowing a drone for the weekend may be all the drone fix you need, and it’ll save you hundreds of dollars if you don’t really need to buy one outright.
Michael Cassau is CEO and founder of Grover, another gadget rental company that is just getting started in the US. As of this writing, products are only available to New York City residents, though Cassau said by email that more cities would be added throughout the year. In addition to some of the same product categories covered by Lumoid, Grover lets you try smartphones, laptops, projectors, video game consoles, and more.
“Grover is not about trying before buying but about replacing buying altogether because it’s unnecessary and largely debt financed,” Cassau said. “Consumers are granted the freedom from purchasing one gadget at a large upfront cost and given the ability to experience multiple gadgets at a reasonable price point. How long a consumer wants to keep a product is up to them.”
With Grover, products come with a monthly rental fee. You can still choose to keep any products you want to buy outright for a predetermined price plus a little extra (see Grover’s FAQs for the calculation).
Lumoid, however, is much more of a try-before-you-buy service. In certain categories, such as fitness trackers and headphones, you can request several products at once to comparison-test them for one flat fee. The rental period is only one week long, though. Ramamurthy said her customers often discover products that they might otherwise had never known existed.
It’s Not Just the Kids
Ramamurthy also noted that Lumoid customers aren’t necessarily young technophiles. Many are over the age of 65. More than 70 percent of customers come from Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, and Utah. These customers don’t necessarily have easy access to big-box electronics store where they can go in and put their hands on a device before purchasing it.
Gadget rental services are a real boon for people who love technology. They can help you get more for your money because you can get hands-on time with a wide variety of devices without spending your entire electronics budget on just one or two expensive items a year.