When Ryan Mathre of Stillwater, Minn., wanted to sell his iPhone 4, he didn't have time to post it on Craigslist or eBay. As a busy parent of two toddlers, he used an online reseller instead.
"I sold it for $160 on Gazelle," he said. "It nearly paid for the iPhone 5, and the whole online process took five minutes."
Gadget sellers have a growing number of options to unload smartphones, MP3 players, laptops and tablets. Sellers are going beyond eBay to nearly a dozen online sites such as Gazelle.com that specialize in buying electronic castoffs. Other consumers are selling locally to pawnshops and, most recently, automated kiosks in malls.
While cell phones and MP3 players have had a modest resale market for more than a decade, the smartphone is creating a sudden surge of interest, said Dan Brauser, president of uSell, the Kayak.com of consumer electronics resellers.
More than 70 percent of Americans are expected to own a smartphone this year, according to a Nielsen survey. "The higher penetration and the much higher value is what's driving the resale market," Mr. Brauser said.
Not only are more Americans connecting to smartphones, they're switching to a new device every 18 months instead of two years.
Online buyers such as Gazelle, BuyBackWorld, NextWorth and BuyMyTronics are attracting the bulk of attention. They provide quick online estimates after a buyer completes a few questions about model and condition. If the buyer wants to sell, most companies send a box with prepaid postage for mailing the item.
In the past, some consumers looked for ways to recycle an old phone to keep it out of the waste stream, but now retailers and online buyback programs are not only keeping rejects out of the trash but also giving consumers cash or store credit.
Reselling on a wide scale is in the early stages of awareness and acceptance, Mr. Brauser said. Although some retailers, cities and counties accept electronic waste for no fee, consumers are going for cash instead of the feel-good warmth of recycling.
Only 25 percent of electronics are recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But when consumers find that a smartphone is worth more than $20, it changes things.
For many consumers the cash option is an alternative to buy-back online programs from Apple, Best Buy and Target that offer merchandise credit.
John Hizon of Prior Lake, Minn., has used Best Buy's buy-back program many times. "The convenience of walking into a Best Buy and walking out with a gift card can't be beat," he said. He's not comfortable mailing a valuable piece of electronics to an unknown company hoping to get a check. "I'd rather get the transaction done in a day."interact