October 16, 2008

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Trade in your stuff
Make a quick buck on gadgets
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Electronics and stocks now have something in common: they both have values on the open market that can plummet with little warning. If you’ve been foolish enough to look at your 401(k) in the past couple weeks, you might be wondering if your stash of obsolete toys might be worth more than your retirement fund.

You could be right, but selling all those things on eBay or Craigslist can be a pain. Maybe you’ll get no bids; maybe your buyer won’t pay or won’t show up. If you’re looking for quick liquidation, your best bet might be the Web site of your friendly neighborhood superstore. Circuit City, Best Buy, Radio Shack, Office Depot, Sam’s Club and a ton of other stores offer technology trade-in programs that let you enter the specs of your device and get an instant estimate of what they’ll pay you for it. Since the programs are often promoting themselves as “green,” they’ll even recycle stuff they’re unwilling to pay for. They’ll even send you free shipping materials.

There is a catch, of course: you don’t get cash. You get store credit, which you can use either for the next generation of whatever you just traded or on anything else the store sells. Maybe that’s a good enough deal for you, if the store actually gives you something close to what your trade is worth.

There is one exception to the catch. All the stores go through some third party to actually run the trade-in program, and one of the providers, EZTradeIn.com, gives you the option of a check, PayPal cash or a gift card if you do it directly through their site. Another provider, ecoNEW.com, links you to stores with their programs, while a third, GreenSight.com, just lists their “customers” — not you, retail stores and product makers.

Results will vary depending on which provider you use. At EZTradeIn, an 8GB iPod Touch with all its original accessories will fetch $154. GreenSight gives you $125.80, while ecoNEW doesn’t have an option to select that model (or any model more than at least a year old, it seems).

CompUSA and TigerDirect are now offering a way to lock in your trade-in value right when you purchase your product. It’s called TechForward, and in exchange for a little cash up front, you guarantee that you’ll get a certain amount back — in store credit — based on when you decide to trade. If it’s within six months, you get half your purchase price back; 40 percent within a year, 30 percent within 18 months and 20 percent within two years. You also get a 15 percent bonus if your device is deemed to be in “excellent condition,” but a 50 percent hit if they decide it’s in “poor condition.”

There are a couple problems with this approach. First is the money up front: $25 for an MP3 player, not an insignificant fraction of, say, a $299 8GB iPod touch from five months ago. EZTradeIn would net you slightly more cash in this instance, even factoring in the “excellent condition” bonus. Second, though, you might get your product at a bargain price to begin with, and that reduces your payout when you trade. A new 8GB iPod Touch can be had for $200 now, so in five months, you’d get $100 — half your purchase price, not half the current market value.

For quick, trouble-free cash, a trade-in program is for you. To maximize your return, sell on your own.