Don’t throw away your cell phone when you upgrade to a new device. You can get some cash for your old phone, and subsidize a portion of the purchase of a new one.
There are several ways to sell your cell phone. Some methods allow you to get more money, but may take more time. Other methods allow you to sell your used phone quickly, but you may not receive top dollar for your device.
We’ll look at two methods for selling your phone, and assume the role of a consumer trying to sell an iPhone 3GS (16 GB), including the original cables and the AC adapter, in used, but good, condition. We took our phone to several reselling outlets, and received price quotes, to help you find the best way to sell your phone.
Before You Sell
As you prepare to sell your phone, make sure you take the following steps:
- Clean Up Your Phone. Would you try to sell a car covered with mud? Of course not. Clean up your phone before you list the item for sale or approach a reseller. Remove lint stuck in the speakers, clean up the screen, and do a thorough cleaning. A clean-looking device will sell for more than a dirty phone.
- Take Photos. If you’re trying to sell the phone on your own, through an online auction, or on another website, you need high quality photos of the device. Review the website’s guidelines for sizing photos before you begin. Use natural lighting when taking photos, and place the phone on a contrasting background so prospective buyers can easily see any flaws. Photos should clearly depict details and fill the frame.
- Check Your Account. If you owe money on the device you want to sell, expect trouble when you try to sell it. The phone should be free of any problems tied to its Mobile Equipment Identifier (MEID) or Electronic Serial Number (ESN) registered with the wireless carrier.
- Wipe Your Personal Data. You don’t want your personal and professional information, no matter how trivial, to fall into the wrong hands. Do a manual reset and data wipe of the device before shipping the phone, and remove the SIM card.
Now that we have the essential pre-sale tips covered, let’s focus on the actual sale of the phone. This includes two options: instant purchase brokers and online marketplaces. Instant purchase brokers include both online websites and traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
Instant Purchase Websites
These sites ask you to describe your device’s condition, including water damage and scratches, and provide you with an instant quote based on that description. They pay for shipping and allow you to print a shipping label for free.
You then ship your phone to the company, they test the phone, and if the phone passes the test, they pay you the full quoted amount. This list includes four of the most popular instant sale sites, and their offers for our iPhone 3GS (16 GB), the original cables, and the AC adapter:
Gazelle was the first major legitimate player in this arena, and ranks #24 on Inc. Magazine’s list of the 500 fastest growing companies. I have sold several items to Gazelle in the past, and I’ve never had any problems with this company. They give you four tiers of quality to choose from for your device. Once you describe your phone’s condition, Gazelle gives you the option of having a box shipped to you, or you can use your own box, with a free shipping label.
Gazelle offered $180 for our iPhone with “normal wear and tear” and “slight wear, such as faint scratches or scuffs.”
2. eBay Instant Sale
After seeing Gazelle succeed in this space, eBay launched their own service, called eBay Instant Sale, in February 2011. The service provides a free shipping label, but does not offer to ship a free box to you. eBay seems very similar to Gazelle’s service, but they provide you with four tiers of quality to choose from for your device.
When we completed the eBay Instant Sale quote form, we indicated that our iPhone was fully functional, with a charger, and in good condition. eBay offered $189 for our phone.
3. Amazon Electronics Trade-In
Amazon now offers to buy your used electronics through their Electronics Trade-In department. Like eBay, the company provides a free shipping label for you to put on your own box, with your own packaging materials. Amazon has three tiers of quality for your device.
We indicated that our iPhone was in good condition. Amazon offered $188.80 for our phone.
The lesser known, but up-and-coming, MaxBack site also offers an instant purchase service. MaxBack lets sellers choose from four tiers of quality.
We indicated that our iPhone was in good condition. MaxBack offered us $194 for the phone. They added $1 for the A/C adapter and $1 for the original cables on a separate page, bringing the total to $196.
Wirefly, a large online retailer of cell phones, doesn’t have the overhead of a traditional brick-and-mortar store, and passes some of the savings on to customers. They can set up new service with a provider, or upgrade your line when you end a contract. They also have a trade-in service where you can trade in cell phones, and other electronic devices.
The company provides four quality options (Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor) with similar descriptions to the other services that we reviewed. We indicated that our iPhone was in good condition, but we were only offered $118.44 for the phone.
Instant Purchase Brick-and-Mortar Stores
Traditional brick-and-mortar stores also purchase used cell phones. You can walk into many of these stores, have your phone quickly appraised, and receive store credit or a check for the amount of the appraisal. Sellers do not have to wait for their phones to ship, and they don’t have to wait for companies to test their phones. You can just walk into a store on your lunch break, and walk out with payment in hand.
To make the process even more efficient, you can get a quote online before walking into the store. Three of the best options to try include:
1. Best Buy
Best Buy, one of the largest electronics retailers in the world, buys back phones using a trade-in program. You can walk into a store to get an estimate for your phone, but the website encourages visitors to first obtain a quote online, and then choose to either mail in the device, or go to a local store.
You can trade in your device for a Best Buy gift card or a check. The gift card provides you with better value: For example, in our tests, Best Buy offered $157 in gift cards for our iPhone, but only offered to send us a check for $102.
RadioShack, like Best Buy, offers both online and in-store trade-ins for cell phones. RadioShack’s online program seems identical to Wirefly’s, which may indicate that one company provides both of the companies’ services. In fact, RadioShack offered us the same price for our phone, $118.44. Unlike Wirefly, however, Radio Shacks lets you take your phone down to your local RadioShack store to trade in the phone immediately.
3. Your Wireless Carrier
Your wireless carrier has a vested interest in buying your old phone. They can re-sell the phone for a profit, while encouraging you to buy a new phone, with a 2-year contract. Verizon offers a trade-in program that purchases phones from any carrier. You can visit their website to complete an appraisal, and if you accept their offer, they send you a pre-paid envelope to mail them the phone.
Verizon’s questions about the quality of our phone were minimal: “Does the phone power on?”, “Does the display work?”, and, “Is the screen cracked?” There were no questions about scratches or scuffs on the phone, so we weren’t surprised to receive a low offer: Verizon only offered $100 for our iPhone. Sellers receive a Verizon gift card instead of cash.
AT&T offers a similar program and has teamed up with a firm called Flipswap to run their trade-in program. Like Verizon, you can only trade in your device for an AT&T promotional card. But unlike Verizon, you can take your device straight to a store to complete the transaction. When you go online to evaluate the phone, the website asks questions similar to the questions found on the Verizon website. In our case, we were offered $168.97 for the iPhone.
Pros and Cons of Selling Instantly
Do instant purchase sites provide you with the best value? Some of the key advantages and disadvantages to consider include:
Advantages to Instantly Selling Your Phone
Some people just want to get quick cash for their phones. As long as you accurately rate the phone’s condition, you receive a guaranteed amount for your device. There’s no waiting around to see if someone buys the phone, and no worrying about scams. You get the quote, send in the phone, and get paid. This method allows you to sell your phone with very little hassle.
For an instant transaction, sell to a brick-and-mortar store. You don’t have to package up your phone carefully and hope the phone makes it to a company’s testing center in working order. You can simply walk in, get your phone appraised, and agree or disagree to sell the phone – all within minutes. Some consumers may feel more comfortable working with an in-store employee rather than trusting a website and the postal service.
Disadvantages to Instantly Selling Your Phone
By using an instant sale company, you may not receive the maximum price you could otherwise get for your phone. The companies listed here don’t buy phones to stick them in a warehouse; they resell them to other customers at a higher price. You allow the middleman to take money out of your pocket if you sell the phone to a store instead of selling directly to the end user. Brick-and-mortar stores also have a lot more overhead than their online counterparts. The employee that appraises your phone needs to make sure that the store makes a profit.
As a side note, use caution when dealing with the lesser-known companies out there trying to buy your phone. Stick with well-known companies that have solid reputations. You might get more money from a no-name website, but you also may become a victim of a scam if you work with a lesser-known website. Do some research to assess the company’s legitimacy. Check the company’s rating on the Better Business Bureau website and look for online website reviews before sending your phone to any company for appraisal.
Maybe you think you can get more than $189 for your iPhone by waiting for the right buyer, or by auctioning off the device. A history of recent eBay auction sales showed the same iPhone 3GS (16 GB) phone selling for $215 to $250, depending on the options included with the phone.
If you take a risk, and exercise patience, you might earn extra money by selling your phone online directly. With online marketplaces, buyers can review devices for sale on multiple websites before choosing the best deal. Sellers have no guarantee of a sale, but the potential for a higher dollar reward exists.
Four of the most popular marketplaces to sell your phone include:
1. eBay Auction
Selling your phone on eBay can be a risky and expensive proposition if you aren’t knowledgeable about how the website works. There are many ways to become a victim of a scam on eBay, with little recourse for the seller. You’ll also pay eBay auction and PayPal fees. In fact, if your phone sold for $215 through a traditional eBay auction, your eBay and PayPal fees would drop your total sale price to $189.11. Do the math to figure out the bottom line, and determine if selling your phone using an eBay auction is right for you. Lastly, keep in mind that if you sell your phone at auction, you must follow through with the sale of the phone.
The instant sale services offer you a lower, guaranteed amount, so they can turn around and re-sell the device, often on eBay. By selling your phone at an eBay auction, you remove the middleman, and you have the potential to make more money.
If you don’t want to pay eBay selling fees, you can list the phone for sale on Craigslist instead. However, you generally have to meet the buyer in person to sell the device, and he or she may be a criminal trying to take advantage of you. You have no protection from selling on Craigslist, unless you make the buyer sign a contract. Even so, there are many common Craigslist scams to watch out for.
On the plus side, Craigslist allows you to list the phone at whatever price you want, and to solicit interest via e-mail, without any requirement to sell. If you don’t find an appropriate buyer, you’ve lost nothing and put no money into selling the device.
3. Facebook Marketplace
You can also list items for sale on Facebook at a set price, without any fees. If no one buys the item, you lose nothing. If someone wants to buy the item but tries to negotiate the price to an unreasonably low amount, you don’t have to accept the offer.
You have to meet the buyer in person to complete the transaction. However, you can opt to list the item in a private sale on Facebook, so that only your friends can see the item for sale. This greatly limits the number of potential customers, but you get increased security in knowing that a friend or acquaintance would not try to steal your phone.
Pros and Cons of Online Marketplaces
Consider some key pros and cons when selling your phone through an online marketplace:
Advantages of Online Marketplaces
You can get a higher price for your phone if you wait to sell to the right person. You eliminate the middleman, and keep more of the money. Additionally, in the case of Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, you do not have to sell. You can list your item, and later decide to keep the phone. You can also turn down offers that don’t meet your expectations.
Disadvantages of Online Marketplaces
When you sell your phone using an online marketplace, you won’t sell to a large corporation with a known reputation. You therefore introduce risk into the equation. Your buyer may try to rip you off, or try to intimidate you into taking a lower price when you meet in person. Even a legitimate buyer may waffle on his or her offer to purchase the item. The biggest risk with a site like eBay is selling at a bargain basement price. No one competes with the opening bid, and if you do not have a reserve price, you must sell the phone to the highest bidder.
Sell to Someone You Know
If you do not want to sell your phone to strangers, you might consider selling to someone you know, like a friend, relative, or co-worker. You likely have a natural network of people you know, and they might want your phone, or know someone else who wants to buy it. You reduce some of the risk involved in selling online when you know the person you’re dealing with.
If you know someone who wants to buy your phone, and you can settle on a fair price, it can be a win-win situation. Before finalizing the sale, consider what happens if the device malfunctions a week after they purchase it from you. Will the buyer want a refund, or expect you to pay for repairs? How will you handle this situation? If you don’t discuss these possibilities before you sell your phone, you can find yourself in a sticky situation that ends up being a big headache for your relationship with the buyer.
Before you sell your phone, do your research. In our tests, we found that selling on eBay might give us the most return for our phone, but at a cost. eBay and PayPal fees add up quickly, so make sure to factor fees and costs for postage into your online auction.
Selling to a big-box store may seem easy, but the simple process comes at a price: You won’t get as much for your phone when you sell it to a retailer. To get the most money for your phone, start by letting the people in your network know that you have a phone for sale. If you don’t have any luck selling your phone to someone you know, consider listing the phone on Craigslist. If you still can’t sell your phone, then start reviewing the other options we’ve listed here to find the best option for you.
Where have you sold your used cell phones before? If you could sell your phone for $10 more on eBay, would it be worth it? What about an additional profit of $20 or $50?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)