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How to Turn Your Old Gadgets into Cash (So You Can Buy New Gadgets)

Whether you want to sell off your old smartphone to pay for the new one, add a little cash to your fun money pile, or to put the proceeds towards Christmas, we’re here to help. Read on as we outline the best ways to turn your old gear into money.

When it comes to turning your older gadgets into cash, there are three main venues to explore: trade-in programs, auction sites, and local sale. Each of these venues has distinct advantages and disadvantages which, after reviewing our breakdown of the venues below, you’ll need to balance against your own desire for speedy resolution, amount of cash, and degree of risk you’re willing to take.

Converting Gadgets Through Trade-Ins

When you want the money right now and you don’t want to have to wait for someone to actually purchase your device, trade-ins are the best option. Instead of listing your device on an auction site or haggling back and forth with a buyer on Craiglist, trade-in services allow you to simply say “You’ll give me X amount of money for my old iPod? Great. I’ll mail it in right now.”

That’s the huge upside to the trade-in system; assuming you describe the condition of your device accurately when submitting it for a trade-in (e.g. you don’t claim your cracked-screen iPad is mint condition), it’s a frictionless process. They offer you the money for the gadget, you accept, you mail it to them, and you receive your payment for the gadget.

The downside to the trade-in system is pretty straight forward: the resellers you’re trading the gear into want to profit from the exchange, so of course they’ll offer you less than the open market (eBay or Craiglist, for example) would bear. What could sell for $300 on eBay might only fetch $200-250 on the trade-in sites.

So what do the sites look like and what can you expect when you use them? We put the five biggest trade-in sites through the paces using four common last-generation gadgets many of our readers would potentially sell: an iPhone 4S (16GB/ATT), an iPad 3 (32GB/Wi-Fi only), a Samsung Galaxy SIII (16GB/ATT), and a Kindle Fire HD (7″/32GB/Wi-Fi only).

Here’s how we fared checking the trade-in values at the sites. Listed prices are for the previously mentioned items in like-new condition:

Gazelle

Gazelle specializes in Apple products (iPhones, iPads, iPods, as well as Apple computers) as well as smartphones and tablets from other major companies.

Trade-In  Breakdown:

iPhone 4S – $170

iPad 3 – $230

Galaxy SIII – $126

Fire HD – $49

Total Trade-in Value – $575

Shipping: Gazelle foots the bill for shipping on any item worth more than $1 (why you would pay to ship them an item worth less than a dollar is a mystery).

Local Trade-In: No.

How You Get Paid: Gazella will cut you a check (you’ll be waiting on the mail for this option), PayPal you the money (instant), or convert it into an Amazon Gift Card (also instant). It’s nice to have options; we definitely appreciate organizations using PayPal.

 

Amazon Trade-In

Amazon Trade-In is as diverse as you’d expect any Amazon offering to be. Although we only tried it out with the electronics we’re using for this roundup, you can trade in just about anything: books, DVDs, routers, video games–you name it.

Trade-In  Breakdown:

iPhone 4S – $200

iPad 3 – $241

Galaxy SIII – $140

Fire HD – $116

Total Trade-in Value – $697

Shipping: Free. If there’s anything Amazon has on lock down, it’s the shipping industry. You trade it in, they pay the shipping bill for you.

Local Trade-In: No.

How You Get Paid: If you expected anything but Amazon gift cards at your payment, well, we don’t know what to tell you. You trade it to Amazon and, whether Amazon pays $10 or $1000 for your loot, you get it all back in the form of an Amazon gift card. In light of how many things you can by on Amazon and through the Amazon checkout system on participating web sites, it’s about as close as a gift card can get to cold hard cash.

 

Nextworth

NextWorth offers a more diverse spread of categories than Gazelle and includes not only smartphones, tablets, and laptops but also digital cameras (including DSLRs), video games, and game consoles.

Trade-In  Breakdown:

iPhone 4S – $135

iPad 3 – $217

Galaxy SIII – $140

Fire HD – $65

Total Trade-in Value – $557

Shipping: Free. There’s a pattern developing here. Clearly the trade-in shops know that most people will balk at spending $20 on shipping for their old gadgets.

Local Trade-In: Yes; NextWorth has partnered with over 1500 retail locations (most notably Target) so you can trade your gear in without the hassle of packing and shipping it.

How You Get Paid: You can collect your payment via PayPal, Target gift card, check, or with a NextWorth branded prepaid Discover card.

 

Best Buy Trade-In

Best Buy

Trade-In  Breakdown:

iPhone 4S – $99

iPad 3 – $220

Galaxy SIII – $126

Fire HD – $50

Total Trade-in Value – $557

Shipping: Free.

Local Trade-In: Yes; you can walk in to any participating Best Buy location (pretty much any major location, barring small holiday satellite stores) and they’ll assess your gear and either accept it or offer to recycle it.

How You Get Paid: You guessed Best Buy Gift Cards? You guessed right. Great for buying yourself or your loved ones more gadgets, not so great for paying the electric bill.

BuyMyTronics

BuyMyTronics, a subsidiary of GameStop, offers something that none of the other major trade-in shops offers: they’ll buy broken electronics. For example, you won’t get the like-new price of $191 for selling them an iPad 3 with a broken screen, but they will offer you up to $60 for it. If you don’t want to deal with repair costs on older gear, it’s worth seeing if they’ll offer you anything at all for it.

They buy ebook readers, camcorders, GPS units, and a wide variety of electronics in addition to the typical smartphones and tablets. What’s strange about their offerings beyond the typical smartphone/tablet listing is that 90% of them are “recycle only”. Why they felt the need to make two dozen listings for different BlackBerry models just to tell us that it was old and they didn’t want to do anything but recycle it is rather puzzling.

Trade-In  Breakdown:

iPhone 4S – $149

iPad 3 – $191

Galaxy SIII – $138

Fire HD – $55

Total Trade-in Value – $533

Shipping: Free.

Local Trade-In: Yes; but the system is only partially deployed. All GameStop locations accept trade-ins for store credit when dealing with game consoles and video games (as they always have) but very few GameStop locations are fully equipped to accept the wide range of electronics you can trade in through the BuyMyTronics web site. Call ahead to see if your local GameSpot is participating.

How You Get Paid: Check (3-5 mailing time) or PayPal (instant).

With all these variables at play, you really have to weigh what is most important to you. If you want money to spend on Christmas gifts right now, taking advantage of the in-store systems offered by Best Buy and NextWorth make it worth losing a few bucks over a better offer from Amazon, for example. Regardless of the system you use, however, the real benefit of the trade-in system is that (whether you get a lot or a little) you’re going to get cash for your gear.

Auctioning and Listing Your Gadgets

If the upside of the trade-in sites is that you get your money quickly, the downside is that you definitely don’t get the market value for your gadgets. If you want to get top dollar for your gear, you’re going to have to take the harder route and sell it on an auction site (like eBay) or list it on moderated listing sites (like Swappa) or local listing sites (like Craigslist).

The upside of taking such an approach is that you can get top dollar. The downside is that getting top dollar is completely dependent on someone purchasing the product you’re trying to sell, and, in the case of site like eBay, you lose some of the money to fees.

So how do auction sites and listings stack up? We compared the biggest auction site, eBay, against the biggest cellphone and gadget listing site Swappa. Because Craigslist doesn’t have any sort of historical price tracking feature and has more volatile prices, we can’t offer concrete numbers on how much or little money you’d make.

eBay Instant

eBay used to have a legitimate trade-in program like the ones we were just discussing, known as eBay Instant. They stopped the trade-ins in March of 2013, but they kept the Instant portal. Now, instead of allowing you to send your loot to eBay for sorting and a pay out, the Instant portal serves as a ridiculously fast way to list gadgets you want to sell as quickly as possible. If you’ve skipped using eBay in the past because you didn’t want to deal with the hassle of making a listing, you should really trying eBay Instant out. You search for your item, eBay tells you the current average sale price for the item you’re trying to offload, and you can click a single button to preview the listing (and another to immediately list it). We went from looking at iPhone 4S prices to creating an iPhone 4S listing in under 30 seconds.

You can always use the regular eBay interface, of course, but the eBay Instant interface was most like the trade in sites and offered similar convenience. Here’s what eBay suggested we’d likely get for our various listings:

Average Sale Prices: 

iPhone 4S – $260

iPad 3 – $362

Galaxy SIII – $280

Fire HD – $172

Total Sale Value – $1074

Now, those of you that have been keeping a running ledger as you’ve read along are likely saying “Over a thousand dollars! eBay is for me!’ You will definitely make more money on eBay, no doubt, but there are some additional expenses to consider. eBay takes 10% as a fee for most electronics sold (for both auction and buy-it-now format). That’s $107 right there. Let’s also assume we’re going to spend $5-10 packing and shipping each item. That’s $20-40 making sure that iPad and friends is securely packaged. So by conservative estimate we’ve burned up $127 worth of our profit right there and brought the average price down to $947. Never the less, assuming we can move all the product we’ve listed on eBay, we’ve still made around $250 more than our best trade-in option for the total sale.

Swappa

Swappa is site dedicated to buying and selling smartphones and tablets. You can’t sell your old Xbox 360 or Macbook Air here, but you can get eBay style efficiency without eBay’s listing fees. You are, however, still at the mercy of the market, and if nobody is looking for what you’re selling you may not even make the $50 Amazon and the like were offering you. Swappa does do a nice job giving you the average sale price of the item you’re listing over the last few months. Here’s what we could expect to make off our loot:

Average Sale Prices: 

iPhone 4S – $240

iPad 3 – $283

Galaxy SIII – $231

Fire HD – $155

Total Sale Value – $909

You’ll still need to fork out for shipping the items you sell, but you won’t lose any money on listing/auction fees. Assuming you spent $20 shipping the gadgets we listed above, you’d walk away with around $890.


As we mentioned early on the in guide, you have to find the venue that provides the right balance of return for your effort and convenience. If you want the money right then to spent on a new iPad, driving to a nearby store for an in-store trade is as fast as it’s going to get. If you want maximum return for your money you can try your luck with a buy-it-now eBay auction and eat the auction fees in order to get potentially 50-100% more than the trade-in venues would offer. Regardless of how you move your old electronics, though, it’s still better to find yourself with cash in your pocket than a drawer full of rapidly depreciating last-gen gear.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/25/13

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