Earlier today I talked to someone at Canon's customer support about what conditions would a camera be considered as a refurb. First off, Canon will not repair a defective item and resell it. Cameras with issues are sent to the recycling plant. 'Refurbished' sold cameras most likely come from overstock, has been returned from a retailer, or may have had a damaged box (nobody wants to buy a camera with a bent box).
Technically not allowed to sell the same item as 'new' twice, they have to stamp it with the refurbished scarlet letter. Before any item is sold though, it goes through a complete 'new product standards' inspection to ensure it meets the same requirements as equipment sold as 'new' and packaged with all the standard items (software, manuals, cables, straps).
I decided to order a refurbished 5D Mark II when there was a pretty nice sale going on and while new retail versions are selling for about $2500+, I was able to grab this guy for $1799 (pre tax). Here's a little insight on what to expect from Canon's Refurbished store. The BOX is not the same OEM as you'd get from buying one as New.
Everything is well packed, and comes with brand new manuals, software CD's, straps, and cables.
It's sold as refurbished, but still comes with Canon's 90 Day Warranty.
Inspecting the camera's body, it looks BRAND NEW and untouched. Menu was set to all default settings, no shutter actuations, and firmware had already been upgraded. I've had my other 5D Mark II since it first hit the internet (2 years ago), and have had no issues ever. Although this one is technically a refurbished item, it's Brand New as far as i'm concerned. With the discount on Refurbished items combined with periodic sales from Canon, I was able to grab this for several hundreds of dollars cheaper than even a used 1 year old Body found on eBay.
Glad I was able to grab the deal, these popular cameras and lenses sold out in a matter of hours once they announced a nice percentage off promo code. You can also check out their other items including printers and other Canon supplies here: http://shop.usa.canon.com/webapp/wcs/stores