Comparing the iPhone trade-in services: Apple, Gazelle, uSell, Amazon and eBay

Comparing the iPhone trade-in services: Apple, Gazelle, uSell, Amazon and eBay

Summary: With Apple jumping into the gadget trade-in business I decided to compare its prices to the competition to see who offered the best buyback prices on the iPhone 4 and 4S. Read this before you sell your old iPhone.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware, iPhone, iPad
Comparing the iPhone trade-in services - Jason O'Grady

On August 21 I wrote about Gazelle locking in iPhone buyback prices through August 31. Before you rush to beat tomorrow's deadline, there's a new player in the iPhone buyback business. Apple's now buying back used iPhones, iPads (heck, even desktops and notebook) and giving customers gift cards redeemable, (where else?) -- at the Apple Store. Apple even offers a handy calculator to see what your old gear is worth.

I compared Apple's new buyback service to its major competitors (Gazelle, uSellAmazon Trade-In and eBay Instant Sale) to see who's offering the best price on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S ahead of the anticipated iPhone 5 announcement on September 12.

Each service works a little differently. uSell, eBay and Gazelle offer cash. Apple and Amazon offer gift cards for their respective stores. uSell shops your device to several buyers and lets you pick the best cash offer. Each uses a third-party service to refurbish and resell the devices. Apple uses PowerON, Gazelle sells through retail channels (like eBay and Amazon), uSell uses "network of trusted, professional buyers," Amazon uses "a third-party merchant," and eBay uses AllTechWholesale.

For my comparison I got quotes for all three iPhone 4 and 4S memory configurations (but not carriers and colors) and assumed that the device was fully functional, moderately used to like new and had no major damage. The problem is that condition is subjective and each vendor uses a different scale to rate the condition of your schwag. 

The prices below assume that the device works, has no cracks, water damage, broken parts or bad ESN, that the battery will charge and that you return it with the power cord (but not the original box). 

For each vendor I chose moderate to perfect conditions, so if your device has major scratches, dents or cracks, expect a lower number. Much lower. Here are the conditions that I chose on the various services:

  • Apple: I answered YES to the "light to moderate scratches or scuffs" question, then NO
  • Gazelle: I picked Good ("normal signs of wear") and Flawless ("looks like it's never been used")
  • uSell: I picked  Light Wear ("signs of minimal use, but no scratches") and Like New ("no sign of use")
  • Amazon: Good ("flawless display, light scratches") and Like New ("no visible wear of personalization")
  • eBay: Working ("no physical damage")

Here are the prices being paid for a black iPhone 4 on AT&T:

iPhone 4, 8GB:

  • Apple: $105 - $155
  • Gazelle: $134 - $149
  • uSell: $128 - $142
  • Amazon: $195 - $230
  • eBay: $170

iPhone 4, 16GB:

  • Apple: $120 - $170
  • Gazelle: $146 - $160
  • uSell: $152 - $165
  • Amazon: $229 - $270
  • eBay: $180

iPhone 4, 32GB:

  • Apple: $135 - $185
  • Gazelle: $159 - $173
  • uSell: $157 - $157
  • Amazon: $255 - $300
  • eBay: $235

Here are the prices being paid for a black iPhone 4S on AT&T:

iPhone 4S, 16GB:

  • Apple: $235 - $285
  • Gazelle: $277 - $290
  • uSell: $225 - $260
  • Amazon: $348 - $410
  • eBay: $300

iPhone 4S, 32GB:

  • Apple: $280 - $330
  • Gazelle: $280 - $295
  • uSell: $240 - $283
  • Amazon: $386 - $455
  • eBay: $315

iPhone 4S, 64GB:

  • Apple: $295 - $345
  • Gazelle: $294 - $314
  • uSell: $275 - $321
  • Amazon: $425 - $500
  • eBay: $400

Keep in mind is that the buyer reserves the right to change their price estimate after the device is inspected, so don't expect to exaggerate about your iPhone's condition and expect to get top dollar. Honesty is the best policy and you should disclose all cracks, scratches, dents and water damage or risk sending back some of the money from your advance (usually a princely sum).

That being said, Amazon consistently offered the best prices for used iPhones. eBay was a close second, Gazelle and Apple usually battled for third with uSell bringing up the rear. Also, with 12 days to go before the big reveal, used iPhone prices are moving fast, expect the prices above to drop daily. Then precipitously after September 12.

What are you going to do with your current iPhone?

Topics: Apple, Hardware, iPhone, iPad

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  • Probably Keep It?

    While the Amazon prices are certainly enticing (I could pay for an iPhone 5 with the iPhone 4 trade-in alone), I think I'll keep my old phone. I sold my old 3Gs when I bought the iPhone 4. Stupid mistake.

    I recently stepped on my iPhone 4, shattering the display. I took it to be repaired and it couldn't be repaired because I messed up the frame when I stepped on it. DOH!

    So I was out a phone. I sold it on eBay for parts and ended up going back to my wife's old iPhone 3G. I think when the 5 comes out, we'll just tuck this 3G away along with her iPhone 4 and save them for a day when we need them as a backup. Then, when the 6 comes out, we'll sell off the old ones and tuck away the 5's.

    I think it's beneficial to keep an old phone as a backup. Especially with phones coming with glass screens and fragile components. I guess now you can get accidental damage coverage on the iPhone, but I remember a time when you couldn't and if it broke, you shelled out $600 for a new one or you just went with a broken phone.

    I guess all the raging from shattered iPhone owners with shards of glass in their pointer fingers changed that. Still... Shelling out $150 for a deductible isn't always feasible so it's nice to have that backup.
    • I Kept my 3G

      Not only as a backup for a catastrophic disaster, but for music and navigation on my Harley!
  • I'm going to see if my iPhone will blend

    I'm going to do it outside an Apple store.
    • You are just a troll

      And the real question is, why are you allowed to post your mindless drivel on here?
      Troll Hunter J
  • Supply & Demand?

    Any chance the figures above are based on Supply & Demand, & now that Amazon has been outed as currently paying the best, that their prices will plummet?
  • Unlocked 4s

    No prices given for 4s unlocked........huh?
  • Concerned about reports of Amazon Trade-in Scam and Horror Stories. True?

    Hello Jason,

    After reading your article, I sent in two of my iPhones today in "like-new" condition with all original packaging.

    I'm curious if you've heard about or received any negative response from users with the program. There are tons of complaints on Amazon boards. Not sure if these are true and if Amazon is addressing them.

    Numerous reports on how Amazon not only rejected phones that were in pristine condition, but also how they sent back phones with poor packaging, missing cables and chargers, and damaged devices. Scary Stuff!

    Any feedback would be very much appreciated. I am a bit nervous now after just dropping off my package at UPS.

    I'll keep you posted how my transactions go. May need your assistance in bring more awareness to users if this turns out to be a common occurrence.

    Hawaii Opihi
    • do NOT use AMAZON, it's a scam

      I sent in a like new iphone 4S (3 months old, cover and screen protected since day one, all accessories brand new because I used cable and ear plugs from my iPhone 3S). Amazon received it, kept it for two weeks and gave me a credit for the "good" condition saying there were scratches on it. My friend sent in two iphone 4 phones in good condition. Both phones were kept for 2 weeks and rejected saying they are not fit for trade in. So far it's been three weeks and she has not got the phone back. Do a search. These third parties amazon use really abuse their privilege. So look else where to trade in, but NOT amazon.

    When I told my husband I could send in one of our iphone 3gs' and receive $70 Amazon credit he told it was a scam and there was no way they were going to give you what they said they would. He also stated that they probably would say it was in poor condition and give us maybe $20. I said -- "But wait! It says right here that I can opt for the phone to be sent back to me and I do not have to take less money for it." He was skeptical to say the least. We packaged up the 3GS that had never been used even for a day without it's Speck Candy Shell protective case -- plus a screen cover. So we got out the original box, checked over the phone to verify - no scratches perfect condition. Sent the "quick start" guide required, a brand new set of ear buds and a charger - all excellent condition. Oh wait there is more - we charged the phone and made certain it held a charge and that it was operable -- everything was perfect. So he put the Apple Box inside a second box. Put padding around the Apple box securing it within the second box - and to be safe put it in a third box with air pillows around it. We shipped it off to the Trade-in Program thru Amazon. A little over two weeks went by - I watched the online tracking of the package until it finally was scan in at it's destination. Three days later - today - I went on to check the status - It said they were sending my phone back to me. Want to know why????? IT WAS "SEVERELY DAMAGED" Bull. So I had a chat with online customer service thru Amazon. They remind me that the phones are sent to outside vendors. He tells me to please call back if I don't get the phone back by December 24th. Are you kidding me? So I call customer service and the service rep there tells me all she can see is that the phone I sent in was "severely damaged" I had better get my phone back in pristine condition as it was sent to them. If there are missing parts or someone else's used parts I'm not going to be a happy camper. The phone I sent them was perfect and could sell for new if you did not know there were newer models out there. After reading all of this I am concerned and will remain concerned until I receive my phone back. I have no problem with them not wanting it because maybe they already have too many of that model - that would be fine - just send mine back but this SEVERELY DAMAGED statement has me more than a little upset and concerned. LIVE AND LEARN -- i am an Amazon Prime Member and I know the phones are sent to "outside" vendors but I count on them to deal with reputable companies. GRRRRR TO EVERYONE OUT THERE READING THIS RANT -- DO NOT USE THE TRADE-IN PROGRAM THRU AMAZON! It IS a SCAM. I WISH I WOULD HAVE RESEARCHED TIS BEFORE MAKING THIS TERRIBLE MISTAKE. IF I SOUND PEEVED. THAT WOULD BE PUTTING IT MILDLY. I'll be upset until I see what i get back. I have this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that I've been Ripped off and I cannot believe Amazon is allowing this practice to continue. I'm obviously not the only one scammed.
  • What about TECHPAYOUT?

    First thank you for this review. But I think that you left out a key competitor. When I was looking to sell my old iPhone was giving significantly more cash. I had questions and they were fast and helpful in their responses. I used the label that they provided to ship my phone back to them and I received a check in my mail box 4 days later. I would recommend their services to anyone.
    • ipodswapshop paid the most for my iphone

      I checked usell and all the other listed here. offered the most for me by almost $40.00 which is alot! They sent the prepaid box in just a couple days and paid me the same day they got it back. check em out!
    • Follow the money

      Obviously Jason gets paid to promote Amazon, not Techpayout. Oops, did I type that?
      Larry Gunderson
  • Better option
    Cesar Navarro
  • Selling my iPhone

    I was looking at all of there sites to sell my iphone but then someone told me about phone and they have a wayyyyy better price for them. Of course I didn't sell it to them phonekarma didn't take too long to send me my money either :)

    Just a little help for all of you... :)
  • Best prices

    Online I think is the best place I have found for prices. I would recommend them for an online trade site or you could go the eBay or craigslist route. Local trade companies don't really offer what online resources will.
    Tiffany Capshaw
  • Selling iPhone

    These are all well-known options. But some of the smaller players offer more money. I sold my iPhone to Flip'd. They make selling your iPhone easy.
  • Sell your old iPhone

    No matter where you sell old iPhone, you must pay attention on this warning: iPhone "Restore" does not delete personal data! - From CNET

    So before selling your iPhone, you should erase anything on it first. here is a video for wiping all personal data permanently from your iPhone.
  • Beware of Amazon Trade In Scam

    I sent in an iphone 5 which had absolutely no scratches and was in original box with charger & headphones in new condition. Shame on me for trusting Amazon. They lowered the offer price by over $100 and marked the item as scratched.
    *** I Promise to spread the word of this scam in every way possible ****
    Ray H