/ Shopping, Technology

Why buy when you can rent the latest gadgets?

Computer mouse on delivery boxes

Can’t afford the latest gadgets? Why not rent them for a monthly fee? A new US website offers a ‘try before you buy’ service for all manner of expensive electronics. Would you like to rent gadgets in the UK?

It seems that if you want a full membership to the world of technology, you’d better have a good relationship with your bank manager. Today’s shiny new tech toys might have gadget fans drooling, but their high price tags can leave them out of the reach of many.

It’s understandable. With rising food prices and energy bills, dreams of owning an iPad or the latest digital camera are often put on hold for more vital spending. But, this means that many people feel short-changed in not being able to play with the latest technological wonders.

That could all be about the change thanks to US website Ybuy.com, which allows shoppers to rent must-have gadgets instead.

Renting the latest gadgets

Like a 21st Century Radio Rentals, Ybuy.com has launched a service in the US that lets you rent the latest tech for what looks like perfectly sane money. For $24.95 per month – that’s around £16 – you can choose a product from a fanboi’s wishlist to use for 30 days.

The range of products is impressive – and all would cost an eye-watering amount to buy outright. Renters can pick from products like an Apple iPad 2 (£399), Breville Barista Espresso Machine (£400), Dyson Hot Fan Heater (£250), Fujifilm X10 camera (£425) and even a robot vacuum cleaner.

I’ve checked the T&Cs, and the process seems refreshingly fair. There are no shipping fees, you can cancel at any time, and if after 30 days you decide you actually wouldn’t mind buying it, you can – and even have the $24.95 deducted from the purchase price.

The return of renting?

So, with the skyrocketing cost of consumer electronics, is renting gadgets the way to go?

The UK has a rich history when it comes to renting electronics. With the growing success of television after World War II and the high price of early sets, Radio Rentals enjoyed a boom in renting electronics and popped up across Britain’s high streets.

By the 1980s, it had over two million customers and 500 stores. While it eventually stopped trading – the dramatic fall in the cost of electronics meant shoppers preferred to own their TV sets – it’s still doing well in Australia.

But are we set for a renting resurgence in the UK? While TVs and recorders have tumbled in price, a new wave of gadgets – from iPads to digital cameras – are still costly purchases, making renting a sensible option.

And perhaps renting actually serves more than simply getting your hands on the latest technology. A service like Ybuy might actually scratch that ‘must-get-it-now’ itch that many people feel when a new iProduct launches, just without the credit card hangover.

So, would you be happy to rent gadgets – and could this be the answer to getting the latest tech without splashing out the cash?


This is an interesting suggestion Matt, though I fear that the price of renting could make this a failure.

Reviews are useful and playing with display items in shops are no substitute for having a proper opportunity to test products in your own home. I played with a friend’s iPad several times before deciding to buy an iPad 2. That was a great help but I failed to discover some brilliant features and a few problems, the most annoying being the lack of support for multiple tabs or windows in the Web browser.

Renting a gadget does not allow comparison with other products, as you could in old fashioned hi-fi stores. The idea of being able to play with goods in an eBay shop (mentioned in a recent Which? Conversation) might be a better alternative.

Thanks very much for the information about tabbed browsing, Matt. My software is up-to-date but for some reason the option to open new tabs was turned off. Now I want to do the same for multiple pdf files, so will explore the settings.

I have heard that early adopter itch is incurable and infectious. It can be transmitted through contact with new gadgets. 🙂

I am very surprised that this hasn’t already happened, I would be happy to rent stuff if it meant I could keep up to date. And not forgetting that in the ‘old days’ it would have been quite usual for ‘Rumbelows’ to offer you a deal to buy your telly cheap after the rental period if you did want to.

If the price is sensible and the minimum rental period short, as you suggest it is in the USA, this would be a useful service especially for high tech items.

But look at all the bad publicity rent-to-own companies got a few weeks ago.

I’m intrigued by the idea of this – and could it be used as a way to ‘hire purchase’ a gadget without incurring interest, etc? i.e. could you ‘rent’ an iPad 2 for 6 months or so, then pay the balance after 6 months? If so, it could stop people racking up credit card debt just to have the new toys.

Sounds like a good idea, but products have changed so much over the years that they’re no longer inert – and this should be considered when borrowing something.

Before, if you rented a TV for a month, it’s likely that it would be returned in the same condition – just a little more used. But if you use an iPad for a month, at the end of the month it would have evolved into something customised by the user. Of course, if you wanted to return the iPad to Ybuy after a month you could simply hit the factory reset button, but what about the time and money you’ve spent personalising the device?

You will only get the best out of a tablet, phone and laptop if you have it for a prolonged period, and don’t expect to ever need to return it. Only then will you really bother investing in apps, games and tools that you want. If you think you may have to return it after a week, then you’d probably think twice about buying that photo-editing app or that note taking tool – making it a half-baked experience.

Of course it’s good to try before you buy, but as products are becoming more personalisable, keep in mind that owning a product like a tablet will be a far richer experience than renting one.

Very good point, Ben. But this could be a good use for the free evaluation periods that some software products give you.

Jill Brooks says:
27 January 2012

This is a very good idea of renting prior to buying.

Yes, the idea has possibilities.
I remember, many (many) years ago, when electric razors were beginning to be fashionable, I think that it was Remington who had a “Hire before you Buy” type of arrangemnent. You paid a “deposit” (I forget how much) then you could “hire” a Remington Electric Razor of your choice for (I think) up to a month. If you liked it, you paid the balance and it was yours. If you didn’t like it you returned it within, I think, a month, and that was the end of the transaction. Otherwise you could try out another model, and so on ad infinitum.
The idea has possibilities, but could be fraught with snags – worth a try?

Marc says:
11 May 2012

I rented a TV from Radio Rentals for two years while remodelling my house. I was paying around £30 / month for a 32″ widescreen TV with a retail price of about £1200 in 2001/2003. When I ended the agreement they asked if I would like to buy it. They wanted the original purchase price!.