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The best places to trade-in your electronics


If you're holding back on upgrading to a new cell phone, camera or laptop because of cost, you may be surprised how much your old device will bring at trade-in. And if the prospect of dealing with strangers on eBay or Craigslist is unappealing to you, don't worry, a host of trade-in programs from brick-and-mortar stores, such as Best Buy, Costco and Radio Shack, and online trade-in specialists makes the process simple. And even if your old product has little value, many of these programs offer free and environmentally-safe recycling options.

The trade-in procedure starts with your visit to the trade-in website where you locate the exact product you want to sell in the site’s listings. After you’ve answered questions about the condition of your item, you will receive an estimate of its trade-in value. If you then agree to accept this payment, the program will provide a pre-paid shipping label — and may also provide the packaging material — for you to send the item to an evaluation center.

Once it’s received at the center, your item will be inspected. If its condition matches your assessment, the agreed-to payment will be processed, and should be mailed to you within a week or two.

How they stacked up

I set out to evaluate some of the largest programs to see how they compared. I picked three items that would be typical for someone looking to upgrade — an iPhone 4 32GB, a Canon Rebel XTi and a Toshiba Qosmio laptop — and priced them on a selection of the best-known sites.(Prices were obtained on Jan. 7, 2012. Products were cited as being in good condition.)

Many of the brick-and-mortar sites are powered by the online trade-in companies. For instance, Costco and Walmart are powered by Gazelle, and you'll get the same prices on all three. Unlike trading in directly with Gazelle and getting paid by check, however, Costco and Walmart only provide gift cards.

EcoSquid consolidates bids from dozens of trade-in programs, helping you find the best deal with the least effort, but the range of products it supports is one of the most limited.

One outlier is Glyde. It operates as a connector of buyers and sellers, similar to eBay, but with fixed prices. Glyde handles the listing for you and provides prepaid shipping materials. The result is a higher potential price for your device than on the traditional trade-in sites but, unlike the others, there is no guarantee of when your your product will be purchased, if at all. Glyde's product category list is also quite limited.

 iPhone 4 32GB  Canon Rebel XTi  

(Body only)


Qosmio G45  


Gift card

Amazon$189$78 w/lensn/aGift card
Best Buy$170$162$60Gift card

(powered by Gazelle)

$162$53$57Gift card

(+5% for Amazon gift card)  

Radio Shack$125$40$18Gift card

(powered by Gazelle)    

$162$53$57Gift car


As you can see from the chart, there was no clear-cut winner, though Radio Shack was consistently at the bottom in my tests.

And while Best Buy took the honors in two of the categories, Best Buy, Radio Shack and Glyde stand alone on the list for not providing free return shipping if their evaluation of your product's condition doesn't match what you claimed online and you choose not to accept their revised offer. And once Best Buy sends you a revised offer, you only have three days to respond or they assume the offer is accepted. You're probably better off taking your item to a store for evaluation to avoid these issues.

And remember, though all of these sites (except Glyde) say they will clean out your personal data before they resell it, none of them will guarantee it. So make sure you shred the data on your phone and perform a factory reset before sending it in. And, if you are trading in a laptop, follow these steps to save your current information and protect your privacy.

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