You Can't Discount The Past, Apple

A reader noticed that Apple is selling refurbished 8gb iPhones for $349, and they’re listing the original price as $599. “Save 42% off the original price,” says the Apple Store. Gosh, that’s a huge savings! Wait… well sure, the original original price was $599, but we all know that Apple knocked that down fairly quickly, and now a brand new 8 gb model sells for $399—which means actually you’re only saving 12.5% off the Real World Price Right Now of a brand new iPhone, if you went and bought it today.

The reader, Patrick, had a little chat with an Apple rep and tried to get him to go off script and admit the true discount, but Josh was too crafty:

You are chatting with Josh, an Apple Expert
Hi, my name is Josh. Welcome to Apple!

Josh: Good afternoon.
Josh: How may I help you today?

You: why is the refurb iphone 8gb listed with an original price of 599 and a your price of 349?

Josh: One moment while I research that for you.

You: are those the right numbers seeing as the 8gb sells for far less new

Josh: One moment please.

You: ok thank you

Josh: You’re welcome.
Josh: The original price was $599.

You: 8gb phone original prices are $399 though? [Patrick pasted a link to the 8gb Apple iPhone for sale on the Apple site]

Josh: Not quite.
Josh: The original price was $599.
Josh: They were re priced at a later date.

You: oh so it is more crafty marketing wording than a mistake on the website?

Josh: Let me explain…
Josh: The 8GB original price was $599.

You: i understand completely i just believe it to be a misleading way to sell a customer a refurbished phone at $349 when you can buy the phone new for $399 or even $499 for a better version

Josh: OK.

You: and i don’t hold it against you it’s just personally i would rather buy new for only $50 more
You: so i was just wondering if the prices were off at all

Josh: I completely understand.

You: but thank you for clarifying

Josh: My pleasure and thank you for asking.
Josh: This refurbished model was probably the older $499 version.
[Consumerist: What? We’re confused.]

You: is there a difference in the models?

Josh: The only difference was the price.

Apple, we know you enjoy taking huge liberties with your marketing materials, but trying to pass off a $50 discount as a $250 discount by referring to a price that no longer exists is just dumb. And it makes us wonder how stupid you really think we are.

Please, Apple, just be honest with us. A lot of us like your products and keep wanting to buy them. Why, just tonight this writer watched a CNET video clip of how to set up multiple screens on the iPhone and got iPhone fever all over again, eight months after it came out! Please just be honest.

(Thanks to Patrick!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. XianZomby says:

    This is okay. The phones they are selling here are the ones customers bought and then returned because they really only needed them for a week.

  2. mightysloth says:

    apple does this with all of their refurb products.

    23 inch display
    Original Price: $1999
    Refurb price: $749
    Current new price: $899

    Airport Express
    Original Price: $129
    Refurb Price: $79
    Current new price: $99

    40GB Apple TV
    Original Price: $299
    Refurb Price: $199
    Current new price: $229

    Basically any item that’s had a price drop since it’s been released reflects the first price point even if that price point is over 2 years old. I supposed it’s not lying since it says “original price” but it’s certainly misleading.

    I trust that most people are smart enough to catch the discrepancy.

  3. nak says:

    Apple has done this for years at least 3 years. Why is this now news?

  4. Antediluvian says:

    …trying to pass off a $50 discount as a $150 discount…

    even worse, really, isn’t it a $250 “discount”?

    I wouldn’t take the word of a chat drone / outsourced typist, though.

    I hope this is a mistake, not a deliberate attempt to mislead, but either way, it’s sloppy and just plain wrong.

  5. balthisar says:

    Both my iMacs and two of my iPods and my previous Quicksilver were all Apple refurbs. Great deals, all of them. What’s dishonest? The orginal price is the original price.

  6. Chris Walters says:

    I trust they are too. (Smart enough.) That doesn’t change the fact that Apple is greatly exaggerating the “savings” by referencing outdated prices to manipulate the perception of the value you’re getting.

    Obviously I haven’t tested this, but I suspect it has a subconscious effect on the average consumer’s perception of value–sort of like how $399 looks so much better than $400 when rationally it’s barely different at all.

    And yeah, I know they’ve done this forever.

  7. Antediluvian says:

    I could see (but not endorse) this practice if it were for products that actually SOLD at that price, but I don’t see how all their iPhones in stock are currently ones sold during the 70 days of $600 pricing.

    BTW, we bought our refurb Apple TV at $250 (40GB) using our “refunds” from the iPhones.

  8. Chris Walters says:

    @Antediluvian: Late night, math bad. Corrected to $250. Thx.

  9. matto says:

    The conversation is priceless. I wonder if Josh misses his soul.

  10. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    @mightysloth: With Apple’s current all-time low level of product reliability, hopefully people are smart enough to not buy their products at all until they bring their standards back up to par.

  11. Antediluvian says:

    Dang, that’s a shame that the Apple Store people feel they need to do this to sell their refurb stock.

    OTOH, wow — that refurb 23″ monitor is a hell of a bargain at only $750, down from $2000, right?

  12. azntg says:

    Even at the “discounted” refurb prices, I still think they’re too expensive compared to the value.

    Software for the most part (barring a couple of exceptions) is par excellent. But the hardware is bleh at best.

  13. humphrmi says:


    The orginal price is the original price.

    Until they wrote down the price later. Why don’t they use that price? Cause the discount looks bigger if they use the pre-write-down price?

    It’s not dishonest, it’s misleading.

  14. deserthiker says:

    Apple has been doing this for YEARS. I sent them an email about it maybe three years ago and they continue to do it so I don’t think it’s going to change. It’s a stupid practice but it doesn’t take away from the fact that you can get some killer deals by buying refurbs from them.

  15. youbastid says:

    @deserthiker: Do you mean to tell me that an unsolicited email you sent to a giant, global corporation about changing their business practices failed to actually change the way they do business? What kind of world are we living in?

  16. w_boodle says:

    I think Apple rapes consumers. I believe they have a marketing plan that depends on raping consumers. In my opinion Apple is a rapist corporation with a rapist mentality.

    But isn’t Apple progressive? I think all they care about is progressing their profits straight up your ass as they sell you their crippleware.

  17. icruise says:

    Good lord, w_boodle. Could your post be any more offensive while simultaneously lacking any specificity whatsoever?

  18. deserthiker says:


    I didn’t mean to insinuate that my e-mail was going to change Apple’s practice. What I was pointing out is that this is a old practice and it’s not going to change.

    However, as one who works for a giant global corporation I know that companies do change practices based on customer responses. My company has changed practices based on ONE letter. Of course, if the letter writer is an idiot than it ends up doing more harm than good.

    The problem with most big companies is that they don’t listen to their employees, who typically know a hell of a lot more about the business than the customers will ever know. And I’m sure that more than one Apple employee (or former employee) has mentioned that this pricing practice is essentially dishonest.

  19. SpecialEd says:

    The original price of the phone may have been $599, but the one they send you was probably originally priced at $499. This IS deceptive and dishonest.

  20. nak says:

    First, Apple has been doing this since as far back as my memory goes. Second, Apple isn’t the only one.

    I shopped at a grocery store called Albertson’s. Several months ago I noticed their prices starting to creep up. For example, one thing I bought often, a Marie Calendar’s chicken pot pie climbed from $4.59 to $4.99 over the course of three months, a dime every few weeks. Then suddenly Albertson’s becomes Lucky and they have “lowered prices.” To prove it, they put the “old” Albertson’s price next to the “new” Lucky price. Guess what? My favorite pot pie is now a bargain at $4.79, I’m saving 20 cents over what they charged back when they called themselves Albertsons. Too bad I actually paid 20 cents less than that for more than a year, and only paid the inflated price for about a month. But hey, if you can’t lie to your customers, who you gonna lie to?

  21. nomegusto says:

    Apple’s quality tends to be uneven these days, my guess is that they don’t have as much oversight over the manufacturing process as they might have had in days past.

    I purchased a MacBook Pro last year, my wife did the same 3 months later. Hers has had zero problems, it has been by far the best computer she’s ever owned. Mine has run through 3 batteries and a MagSafe Adapter so far.

    The difference between buying this & buying an HP or some other PC is that Apple support has been very easy to deal with. When I call about my problems, I get someone in San Francisco, and they just DHL overnight new parts for me to install without giving me the 3rd degree or forcing me to drive to a “genius”. I don’t know if that holds true for the cheaper machines in their product line.

  22. badgeman46 says:

    And the original price of CD players back in the 80’s was $2,000. That doesn’t mean there is a $1,970 discount at Walmart. Get a grip Apple!

  23. sleze69 says:

    They are playing on people’s misconception that “original price” = “current price for a new model”.

    I am surprised that only a few apple fanboys have commented that Steve can do no wrong. I guess the disillusion is spreading…

  24. Typhoid says:

    They’ve ALWAYS done this. Nothing new.

  25. nequam says:

    @badgeman46: Is Walmart selling the same model as from the 80’s? No.

    There’s no problem with what Apple does because: (1) it clearly states “original price” (as opposed to regular price); and (2) anyone who has done his research knows the score.

    Amazon does the SAME EXACT THING!

  26. Antediluvian says:

    @badgeman46: Oh man, those CD players are a total bargain! And to think — the more you buy, the more you save!

    I could buy, like, 5 CD players for $30 each — that would be like saving $9850!!! I’ll have saved enough to buy a pre-owned car! Awesome!

    /all other sentence-ending punctuation keys are broken!

    //tryin’ to bring slashies to Consumerist!

  27. macinjosh says:

    @balthisar: This is a refurb item, so “original price” connotes (and I guess should denote) the price you’d pay for a new version of the item. They are basically saying that iPhones currently sell as brand new for $599, which they don’t.

  28. Witera33it says:

    I am a complete Apple Fangirl. I have owned nothing but Apple since 1985. I have never had a problem with a product that was not first gen. Almost all long term apple people should know better by now not to be an early adapter. Not because the product is crap, but because all new technology can’t possibly be refined without use by the general public. You can only test so much in a lab or with betas.
    I also believe that a certain amount of hardware quality degraded with the introduction of Intel and a wider range of compatible hardware. This made use of Apple product even easier, and has lowered prices to be completely even with other computers WITH THE SAME SPECS. Because of this, more people are buying and abusing their technology. I mean they are machines after all, and machines break if not properly used.
    I’ve noticed the way they price for refurbs, they’ve been doing it for years. I also find it misleading, but this is simple math and only as misleading as the reader is lazy.

  29. Antediluvian says:

    @Witera33it: While I agree with you that “this is simple math”, I disagree with you that it’s “only as misleading as the reader is lazy”.

    If Microsoft, WalMart, or Best Buy were doing this, we’d be all over them. Why not so with Apple?

    And before anyone says “Best Buy does this on the open box stuff — they don’t change the tags to match the sale prices”, I think this is different. Best Buy, as far as I know, marks the “original” price on an open box item as the price it was selling for when the product became an open box item, not the highest price ever listed for that product. I could be wrong.

    But Apple has standard prices for their products — nothing goes on sale — and they make price reductions as new products are released or updated, to much fanfare.

    I’d be okay if they said, “originally sold for $x, now listed at $y; refurb price: $z” or something.

    Consumerist readers may excel at “simple math” but most other shoppers do not.

  30. Exek says:

    I wonder if I can get away with this when I sell my car later on this year No Wait I can’t I’m Honest, not Apple

  31. FLConsumer says:

    @nequam: No, the 1980’s CD players are still working while the 2007 CD players brought from Mal-Wart have all died by now.

  32. Erasmus Darwin says:

    Given that this policy of Apple’s is nothing new and given the infamously short time between introducing the product and lowering the price, one could speculate that their launch price may have been deliberately set high to make the refurb discount look better. While I doubt that’s the only reason for the iPhone price drop, it does seem likely to have been a contributing factor.

  33. marsneedsrabbits says:

    Yeah, but… it’s Apple. Ya’ know?

    I just retired my G4 in favor of a PC laptop running Linux. I couldn’t justify the expense in light of the poor customer service I experienced from Apple.

    Apple is a better product when it works like it’s supposed to, but shady stuff like this doesn’t engender the feelings of confidence I need to shell out several times the cost of a PC.

    If they want to charge more, they need to do better.

  34. MyCokesBiggerThanYours says:

    @w_boodle: I think you have mental heath problems.

  35. MyCokesBiggerThanYours says:

    I am not surprised you commies don’t understand that each unit has a price attached to it. And that these units were originally sold at the higher price.

  36. NYC_consumer says:

    As the mainstream is joining Apple, Apple is joining the mainstream culture of corporate capitalism.
    As every company they have to make profits, but more and more evidence amounts that they have changed course.
    They display more and more nasty habits of misleading and overcharging consumers, just like common cable service or phone companies.

    In a nutshell: Apple is the new Microsoft.

  37. walterny says:


    You think that’s bad, it’s only the beginning. I found myself a bit bored yesterday so was reading various web pages. My home page is Apples start page. One of the links is to a CNET “review” of an Apple photographic software product vs an Adobe equivalent product.


    Titled “Which is better: Aperture or Lightroom?” it states:

    “That’s what Stephen Shankland (c|net news) wants to know, and he’d like your help. “With the new Aperture 2 now available and Lightroom just celebrating its first birthday, I thought it opportune to survey readers. What would you buy? What would you advise somebody else?” The polls are open.”

    So I clicked it and read the review. And noticed the poll. I’m not a user of either software. I noticed that Apple was ahead 64.3% to Adobe’s 35.7% with some 2000 plus votes cast. I was feeling mischievous and voted for Adobe, then looked at the results. I also realized that I could vote over and over. So I did. Some 350 times. And all for Adobe. But the strange thing was that while I saw the vote count rise slowly, the percentages of Apple and Adobe remained the same. And I kept refreshing the poll results to see a trend in how the number of votes increased. It was always in a defined time frame. I checked later on that night and noticed that with over 4000 votes there was only 1/10th of a percent difference in the results than earlier in the day. Now it was 64.4% to 35.6%.

    I found myself sitting here this afternoon (a day later) and looked at the link again. And strangely enough, today with over 6000 plus votes (three times as many as yesterday), the percentages of Apple to Adobe are exactly the same as they were yesterday give or take one tenth of a percent again. Now 64.2% to 35.8%. Statistically that is an amazing coincidence. And I also noticed that no matter how you vote, the count mysteriously increases by one vote every 10 to 20 seconds, yet the percentages are amazingly similar in over 24 hours of viewing. Now at 7:30pm a day later, it’s 64.4% to 35.6%. Statistically it’s impossible for that number to remain less than a percent different, let alone less than a tenth of a percent than it was over 24 hours ago. In the marketing industry this is called Astroturfing. Astroturfing is advertising that seeks to create the impression of being spontaneous, grassroots behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass AstroTurf. Basically, this is an ad disguised as a legit poll. Hint: the HTML for the web page reveals a lot. I have heard in the past that Apple often pads user comments on their sites for products, but this one takes the cake.

  38. endless says:


    I have always maintained that Apple given the opportunity would be far worse than Microsoft ever was.

  39. radio1 says:

    Typhoid besides having a great name is correct.

    Everyone does this, as long as the prices are clearly explained and marked there’s no problem.

    I know we all like to point consumer injustices, but gee, surf over to and see this in action. Or anywhere.

    Non-issue. Bury. Oops, wrong website!

  40. smackfu says:

    It’s worse when they are selling multiple generations of a product right next to each other. Like the Mac Mini… they have a Core Duo refurb next to a Core 2 Duo. One is the current model, one is the last gen. Both have the same original price. How is that useful to anyone?

  41. ennTOXX says:

    Those who are defending this as “normal practice” , “has happened for years” , “other companies do it” , “it was the ORIGINAL PRICE” must get ripped off by this kind of shit all the time. I have been a MAJOR Mac product USER (no FAN word here) & I ALWAYS thought they were over priced. With that said, please pass the salt… :||

  42. ennTOXX says:

    @radio1: you’re gay, oops! i mean , what do i mean??? :||

  43. scottboone says:

    Even worse with regards to this practice (which, as noted several times, Apple has been doing for far too long), is that Apple’s retail prices are fixed by MAP or Minimum Advertised Pricing. That’s the price that “authorized” retailers agree to advertise, or they can’t sell Apple products. Anyhow, when products are discontinued Apple drops MAP restrictions on them and drop the suggested retail price, usually around a $100 – $150. Take a look around Amazon and other online Apple retailers just after Apple releases product bumps; the old models will still be competitively priced across vendors.

    I often see Refurbished products on Apple’s site going for as much as the internet retailers charged for new products while stock remained. Personally, AFAIC, to avoid false advertising, Apple should be listing the last, lowest suggested price on this site. Otherwise they are just preying on the ignorance of the masses…hence the “false” component of their claim. It would be different if Apple wouldn’t delete all references of pricing history of their models after product updates. ( is the consumer’s friend.)

    As for the $599 Original Price of those iPhones, it would be interesting for someone to buy one from Apple and then sue them for getting a 4.6 Bootloader/04.03.13 Firmware (which wasn’t available when the phone was $599 and would be readily provable to the fallaciousness of the claim).