Selling old gadgets: Buy back services compared

We take a look at a few services and retailers that will pay you for your old gadgets.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
5 min read

At the pace that new e-readers, tablets, and smartphones are released, it can be disappointing how the latest gadget can make that shiny new iPad or Kindle you bought last year seem obsolete.

If you don't have an endless budget for tech purchases and would rather not just dump the old one in the trash, or are looking to raise some funds, one way to recoup some of what you paid for old tech is through buyback services. They're popping up all over, on the Web, in-store recycling kiosks, and even at major electronics retailers.

The appeal is obvious: people throw away or give away old electronics all the time, especially when there's a new object of tech obsession to stand in line for. While eBay and Craigslist are good ways to find a new home for an old gadget, it requires some effort on the seller's part. Deciding on a competitive price, weighing offers, and either shipping it off yourself or agreeing on a place to meet your buyer to make the exchange.

Services like Gazelle.com, Nextworth.com, and eBay Instant Sale do most of the work for you. They evaluate the condition of the item you want to sell and pay you with a check, PayPal deposit, or credit at a retailer based on the resale market value--which each service independently determines. And big box retailers like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Radio Shack have gotten in on the buy-back action too. They will take your old items for store credit toward a new purchase.

Gazelle shows you the changing market value of your used gadget over time.
Gazelle shows you the changing market value of your used gadget over time. Gazelle.com/Screenshot by Erica Ogg/CNET

We've taken some gadgets that people might plan on upgrading from in the next few months and run them through the various services to figure out who offers the best deal.

There are some subtle but notable differences between the services.

Gazelle says it will decrease the offer if your evaluation of your gadget's condition differs from theirs. You can disagree and ask for it back. But if you don't decline their new evaluation in five days, they'll keep it and sell it at their price. Gazelle says it will send a prepaid shipping box, and once it gets the item, payment within a week of receiving an item.

Nextworth is similar but has retail partners too. So if you'd rather walk the device into a store like Target or J&R's, you can get store credit at the store you return it to. If you want a check or PayPal money in return, you can just ship it directly to Nextworth instead. Nextworth also asks the most detailed questions: if the screen is cracked, and more about scratches, dead pixels, if the audio jack and buttons are functional, working WiFi, and if you have the original box and cables.

eBay's Instant Sale buyback program likely won't fetch as much for your gadget as auctioning it through the site, but it makes the resale process a lot quicker. Also note that eBay doesn't do checks, but will deposit your money in a PayPal account with no fees taken out.

The Best Buy and Walmart BuyBack programs are more akin to gadget insurance. To take advantage of the program later, you have to purchase from them the BuyBack guarantee with your item. The price of the BuyBack option depends on the gadget you're buying.

The iPhone 3GS Corinne Schulze/CNET

A TV buyback option is more than an e-reader buyback, for instance. But they will guarantee to take your item back later and give you store credit. The amount they give you is a predetermined percentage of your original purchase price based on when you bought it. You'll get 20 percent if you bought 1.5 to 2 years ago, but 50 percent if you bought in the last six months.

Radio Shack will take an old phone, laptop, camera, or whatever you have for exchange in one of their stores or you can do the whole transaction online, no previous buyback protection necessary. Radio Shack also helpfully provides picture examples of its standards of "good," "poor," and "excellent." That way if you think a phone in "excellent" shape includes a faded key on the keyboard, the pictures will set you straight before you send that phone in. It only offers store credit.

So who pays the most? To the numbers.

iPhone 3GS 16GB
Assuming your phone is in decent shape, has no major scratches, sans water damage, and has the original cables...

eBay is offering the best deal at $189. Gazelle says it will pay $158, followed by Radio Shack with $140.84 of store credit.

Best Buy is not as great of a deal and requires the upfront $60 buyback guarantee. If you paid $300 for the phone originally, plus $60, and you bought it two years to eighteen months ago, you'll get $120 in store credit.

Canon EOS Rebel 400D XTi DSLR
If it has normal wear and tear for a camera, you'll get...

The best offer from Gazelle, which values it at $179. eBay is next with $129, and Nextworth had no offer at all. Radio Shack is offering a measly $77.47 in store credit. Best Buy's BuyBack program will give you $160 if you bought it less than two years ago.

Amazon Kindle, 3rd generation.
Amazon Kindle, 3rd generation. Amazon

iPad 64GB Wi-Fi + 3G
If you need to sell your old iPad before you get iPad 2 or want to check out one of the new Android tablets arriving this summer and have kept it in pristine condition you'll get...

$417 from eBay buyback, $355 from Nextworth, $302 from Gazelle, a credit of $280.14 from RadioShack. If you bought it last April, Best Buy is offering credit of $331.60. Got if for a Christmas gift? They'll give $414.50.

Amazon Kindle 3 with Wi-Fi
If you kept it in good condition, have all the original cables, original box:

Ebay will give you $46, Best Buy offers $41.70 of credit if you bought it six months to a year ago, Radio Shack will give $28.05 in store credit, and Gazelle will pony up $24. Nextworth didn't have an offer.

Sony PlayStation Portable 3000
If it's in decent shape and comes with the original cables, and power cord you're not going to get much for it.

But, Nextworth will offer you $37, followed by eBay with $34. Radio Shack says it will give $20.97 in store credit, and Gazelle comes in last with a price of $17.

Best Buy does not allow items older than two years in its BuyBack program. But you can always try your luck with a regular trade-in at the store.

This was a basic look at five items consumers may want to sell back and replace in the next few months, but it's not a comprehensive comparison. Still, some patterns emerged.

Three out of the five items we compared showed eBay offering the best price, and eBay was second in another. Gazelle had consistent competitive offers, while Radio Shack was more hit and miss. Nextworth didn't have two of the items we tested and thus offered no buyback. Best Buy's program can make sense for the assurance that they'll take it back, and it offers pretty consistent pricing. The downside is it requires forethought and an extra purchase to take advantage of it and doesn't apply to items older than two years.