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What you need to know about electronics trade-in programs

You may get more selling on your own, but these programs take the hassle out of dumping old gear

Published: December 27, 2013 10:30 AM

Doesn’t it always seem that new gadget you bought is already old hat by the time your credit-card statement arrives? You want the new one but can’t justify the expenditure. One solution is to try to sell the old item online. But that can be a hassle; you may be charged a seller fee, and your efforts won’t always result in a sale.

Trade-in programs may be a better solution. Online programs generally offer free shipping and present an instant quote based on your answers to questions about the item’s condition. At brick-and-mortar stores, an associate will assess an item’s condition. Just keep in mind that instead of cash, you'll receive a store merchandise credit.

The programs are a win for retailers, because they draw customers away from their competition. Indeed, shortly after Apple made public plans to offer walk-in customers immediate credit toward a new iPhone in exchange for their old ones, Microsoft announced it would offer a $200 Microsoft Store credit for old iPads. In addition to your business, stores get the chance to resell your trade-ins. The environment also benefits, as the secondary market helps keep the old gear out of landfills.

The real winner, though, is you. In a category such as phones, which is often subsidized by cell-phone companies in exchange for service contracts, you could end up getting more than you originally paid. But to get top dollar, the device has to be in pristine condition and include the accessories that came with it, such as the power adapter and USB cable.

Here are the details on some popular trade-in programs. (Note that the price examples were current at this writing and are subject to change.)

Amazon.com

To trade in an electronics item on Amazon.com, go to Amazon.com/trade-in, select the Electronics category, and search for the exact model name. Once you find it, click the "Trade in" button underneath, and you’ll be prompted to enter your username and password.

You then assess whether your gadget’s condition is Like New, Good, or Acceptable. Hovering over a specific condition displays its eligibility criteria, and the value is listed to the right. You can then print a label and ship the item free to Amazon. If the retailer agrees with your assessment of the product's condition, you'll get an Amazon.com gift card deposited into your Amazon account. If it doesn't, you can either receive a gift card for the value Amazon.com selected or have the item returned to you.

Recently, Amazon upgraded the program to allow customers who trade in their iPhones to lock in their trade-in values until Oct. 15, 2013. You create the trade-in order online, but you don’t have to send in the phone until Amazon receives the new one, as long as you ship it by Oct. 15.

Examples of trade-in values we found at this writing were $363.75 for a black 16GB iPhone 5 for AT&T in like-new condition, and $61.25 for a like-new unlocked Samsung Galaxy S II.

If your gadget's too worn out to trade in or sell, don't just toss it: Recycle it. Our guide tells you exactly how to recycle old electronics.

Best Buy

Best Buy offers online and in-store trade-ins. As we wrote this, Best Buy was offering a $100 gift card for any working smart phone to use toward the purchase of an iPhone 5 with a two-year agreement.  (Note that Apple announced it is discontinuing the iPhone 5.) The retailer was also offering full trade-in value plus a $50 Best Buy gift card toward a mobile-phone upgrade.

Other electronics products Best Buy accepts include computers, tablets, e-book readers, MP3 players, cameras, and camcorders. To find an item’s trade-in value, visit a store or search for the item on the company’s website. Best Buy's offer for a black 16GB iPhone 5 for AT&T in perfect condition was $346.50.  

Tip: Think twice about having any device engraved. Though it can help if your gagdget is lost or stolen, doing so may decrease its resale or trade-in value.

Target

Target's trade-in program, run by NextWorth (see "Other ways to trade it in" for more on NextWorth), accepts iPods, iPhones, GPS devices, cameras, and DVD and Blu-ray discs. You can trade in your item either online or at a store, but either way, you'll receive a Target gift card in return.

To trade in an item online, go to targettradeinprogram.com and enter the exact model name in the search field. You’re then asked whether the device powers on and is fully functional, and questions specific to the type of device. For example, if trading in an iPhone, you're asked whether the device powers on and is fully functional, and whether the display is cracked.

If the answers are Yes and No, respectively, you’ll get $290 for a white 16GB iPhone 5 (AT&T). Print a free shipping label to send in your device, and once its condition is verified, you’ll receive a Target gift card in the mail within 14 days. For instant gratification, head to a Target store, where an associate will assess the device and give you a gift card on the spot.

Walmart/Sam’s Club

Walmart has teamed with CExchange to give consumers credit from $50 to $300 toward the purchase of a new smart phone when they trade in their current one at a participating Walmart or Sam’s Club store. (Sam’s Club is owned by Walmart.)

To receive the credit, bring your working smart phone to an associate in the electronics department, who will assess its condition. Once accepted, the trade-in value is applied to a new smart phone of your choice, whether it's part of a prepaid or a contract plan. CExchange, which also manages trade-in programs for other retailers, claims to reuse devices whenever possible and recycle the remainder responsibly.

Online customers can also receive Walmart gift cards for other electronics items, including tablets, MP3 players, video games, cameras, and laptops, at walmart.com/gadgetstogiftcards. Shipping is free; you can print out a free Fedex shipping label.

Examples of trade-in values for working, nondamaged smart phones are $300 for a 16GB Apple iPhone 5 (AT&T) and $52 for a Samsung Galaxy S II (AT&T).

CExchange works with other retail partners that offer similar trade-in programs, including RadioShack, Crutchfield, eBay, BrandsMart U.S.A., TigerDirect.com, and the Microsoft Store.

Other ways to trade it in

The downside of these programs is that they limit you to the products offered at a particular store. That's where sites such as NextWorth and Gazelle come in. The process is pretty much the same as at store trade-in sites, but instead of store credit, you can get cash. NextWorth offers either an instant credit to your PayPal account or a check within three to 10 days. You can still opt for a Target gift card at NextWorth, if that's your preference.

The deals might not be as lucrative, though. At Gazelle, the trade-in value of a 16GB AT&T or unlocked iPhone 4S was $190, provided it "looks like it’s never been used." That’s not too shabby, but it's still less than the credit you're likely to get from a store trade-in program.

Sell it yourself

Another way to avoid a store credit is to sell the item yourself. You may even get a higher price than you would from sites such as Gazelle and NetxWorth. You can try your luck on Amazon through its Individual Seller Program by going to Amazon.com/sellyourstuff, searching for the model name, and clicking Sell Yours Here. You'll then be asked to set up a seller account. When your item sells, you pay a per-item fee of $1 and a percentage ranging from 6 to 15 percent, depending on the product category.

You might also try selling online, say on eBay or Craiglist. Like Amazon, eBay charges a seller fee and takes a percentage of the total sale price. It also offers buyer feedback and conflict-resolution procedures. Selling on Craigslist is free, but it's more of a laissez-faire marketplace, so you have to take common-sense precautions when conducting business on this site.

Of course, you can always donate your item to your child, a friend in need, or a worthy charity. Or you can recycle it—check e-Stewards Recyclers or the EPA's Electronics Donation and Recycling page for tips.

Just don’t dump it in the trash: Electronics items often contain toxic metals that contaminate ground water.

—Nancy Feldman

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