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Trade old gadget for new -- for a fee

Best Buy's new buy-back program is aimed at the folks who want the latest gadgets. But is it a good deal?

By Teresa Mears Jan 12, 2011 2:31PM

With the advances in electronics these days, the two years of a cell phone contract can seem like forever. The BlackBerry Curve smart phone I got in late 2008 is practically an antique.


Best Buy announced this week that it has come up with a solution for the electronics junkie who wants the latest gizmo: a guaranteed buy-back program.


That's right. If you want to return your TV, mobile phone, laptop, netbook or tablet anytime within two years of purchase (four years for TVs), Best Buy will give you a gift card to apply toward the latest and greatest electronics.


Whether you'll want to do that is debatable, but you'll have to think ahead: Best Buy is going to charge you up front for this convenience: $39.99 and $59.99 for mobile phones, $69.99 for laptops and tablets, and $59.99 to $349.99 for TVs, depending on the retail price.


Bring the item back within six months and you'll get up to 50% of the retail price. The percentage you get back declines over time.


Under the Best Buy program, the Dynex 19-inch flat-screen TV I bought in mid-2008 would bring $37.50. Good thing I didn't pay $59.99 for the right to sell it back.


The biggest demand for the program is likely to be for mobile phones and tablets, which have high retail prices and are changing rapidly. As Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn told Michelle Castillo of Time's Techland blog:

It is for the the early adopter. It's for the technology enthusiast .... The person for whom the latest and greatest technology seems to be really, really important.

Elizabeth Woyke at Forbes' Mobilized figured out how mobile phone buyers could eke out a small profit (maybe $20) buying phones and bringing them back immediately, but Best Buy doesn't expect much of that. Mobile carriers' early-termination fees are one obstacle.


The measly $20 pales in comparison with what you could get from unlocking your iPhone and seeling it on eBay. 


Speaking of eBay, the auction site launched a program last fall in which it will buy old electronics for cash, throwing in free shipping and wiping clean the memories of devices such as computers.


My old BlackBerry Curve, for which I paid $50, would be worth nothing at Best Buy (if I had bought it there) because it's more than two years old. EBay would give me $23 for it. If I wanted to sell it on eBay myself, I could get $50.


Through its Instant Sale program, eBay would pay $511 for an iPhone 4 32G with charger in excellent condition. Based on the retail price of $699.99, Best Buy would give you up to $350 if you brought it back in the first six months.


Jeff Bertolucci at PCWorld doesn't think much of the Best Buy plan. He writes:

It costs $70 to join, and the "up to" wording of the redemption clause is suspect. What if you think your gear is worth more than Best Buy is offering? And since the store credit is redeemable only at Best Buy, you can't apply it toward new hardware at a competing retailer with lower prices. The program does succeed, however, in preventing customers from shopping elsewhere.
Option B: Save the $70 and sell your used gear on Craigslist. Then when you're shopping for a new tablet, TV, laptop, or phone, compare prices at various retailers and choose the, ahem, best buy.


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