Apple's electronics trade-in program moves in-store

The Apple program soon won't be online only

Last updated: August 30, 2013 02:30 PM

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UPDATE: CNBC reported that Apple has confirmed its trade-in program starts in stores today. Apple also sent this statement to Engadget: "iPhones hold great value. So, Apple Retail Stores are launching a new program to assist customers who wish to bring in their previous-generation iPhone for reuse or recycling. In addition to helping support the environment, customers will be able to receive a credit for their returned phone that they can use toward the purchase of a new iPhone."


Looking for another reason to visit your local Apple store? Rumor has it that Apple is preparing a new program that will let consumers swap an old iPhone for a new one, right at an Apple retail store.

While the Cupertino-based company has not confirmed this, Apple watchers expect the program to coincide with the release of the next iPhone, probably on Sept. 10. Based on what we've read, a store employee will evaluate the condition of the phone you're trading in and then offer a gift card toward the purchase of a new one.

And Apple isn't the only company looking at buy-backs to draw shoppers: Amazon is expanding its trade-in program to include more electronic gadgets.

Analysts say Apple's program is intended to entice consumers to go in and use Apple stores rather than use another trade-in outlet such as Best Buy, Radio Shack, or Amazon. That way, shoppers are more likely to buy a new iPhone than to switch to another type of phone offered elsewhere. Apple has been facing increased competition from companies such as Samsung, the maker of the wildly popular Galaxy S 4.

Despite the convenience of Apple's planned program, though, it may not offer the best deal. Sites such as Amazon and Gazelle might pay more for your used iPhone, and you could get an even higher price by selling your phone on eBay or Craigslist. But keep in mind that the money you end up getting depends not on your own assessment of the product's value but on that of the company you're shipping it to, once it has the product in hand.

For example, using Apple's current trade-in-by-mail program, the estimated value for my white 32GB iPhone 4S with all the trimmings and no engravings was $213. Assuming its condition was judged to be pristine, I'd get as much as $275 from Amazon. Excuse me while I go find a box!

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As for Amazon, its electronics trade-in plan, which already covered Kindle e-book readers, MP3 players, GPS devices, digital cameras, and Apple MacBooks, iPhones and iPads, has just been expanded to include headphones, portable speakers, Blu-ray players, and wireless routers. You can get as much as $460 for the latest Apple iPad 32GB Wi-Fi + Cellular for the AT&T network, while a 16GB iPhone 5 for AT&T can fetch up to $418 at Amazon.

Shipping is free: Just print a prepaid label from Amazon's website. You'll receive an Amazon gift card for the value of the trade-in. And again, the final amount offered depends on Amazon's assessment of the item's condition.

Examples of trade-in amounts paid in the new categories are up to $165.50 for a pair of Beats Pro Lil Wayne Over-Ear headphones and up to $203.15 for the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II–Leather, which sells new for $349.

Analysts see trade-ins as a growing trend. One estimate places the percentage of smart-phone sales that involve a trade-in at 20 percent, up from 11 percent in 2011. Amazon says it's seen triple-digit growth in trade-ins of all electronics products. And when companies announce new products, the online retailer says, it sees a fivefold spike in trade-ins. Look for Consumer Reports' comparison of the different trade-in programs in the near future.

—Nancy Feldman

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