Amazon Trade-In: Fair value for your iPhone or scam?

I mailed in a mint condition iPhone 6 for Amazon credit only to see the value degraded by the online retail giant. And it's happened more than once and with increasing frequency.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

As I did last year, and the year before that, and so on, I mailed in my iPhone 6 as well as my iPad Air 2 in for credit with Amazon,

Why do I do this? Well, since I write about this stuff, and one of things that I do is review the accessories for each of the new products, I have to own at least one of the new models. Rather than keep them around, like many people do, I cash them in.

I don't have any kids. If I did, they'd be getting my hand-me-downs. Sometimes, depending on the cycle, my wife gets one. But this year she was perfectly happy with the iPhone 6 Plus, and I was happy not having to spend another $1000 on one.

A full-retail AT&T iPhone 6S and an iPad Pro was going to put enough of a dent in my wallet, thank you very much, Apple.

I consider myself to be a more than above average customer at Amazon in terms of spend. I don't know the exact number, but I'm sure it amounts to several thousand dollars a year.

I could probably figure it out, since I use AMEX for all my purchases, and I'm sure the amount of money I put in Jeff Bezos' pockets would frighten me.

Still, consistently, Amazon has many of the goods I want, at the prices I want to pay, and they drop them right at my front door, so the company gets my continued business.

There are other electronics for trade-in programs out there, such as Gazelle, Best Buy, and Apple itself. The folks over at The Mac Observer did a nice chart comparing the relative value per trade for each of these.

Of course, there is also private sale and similar device listing services such as Swappa and eBay. But if you're happy with credit, Amazon's Trade-In consistently offers the highest cash value for your device, and it's pretty much a hassle-free service.

Or at least, it's supposed to be.

With Amazon Trade-In, you pick your device, and you choose the condition that it is in. Amazon has three condition classifications: "Like New", "Good" or "Acceptable". They give you a UPS sticker to print out and you bring the device to your UPS Store to mail out. All you pay for is the packaging.


As you can see a "Like New" condition device needs to fit some pretty strict criteria. At the time I mailed in my AT&T iPhone 6 128GB, the offer was $502.00 for an "Like New". I picked "Like New" and to "Accept the Price" for what they deemed for it.

Now, if the device had some superficial scratches on the casing, I probably would have been okay with a downgrade to say, $450. But I know that this device was in perfect condition.

How do I know this, you ask?

Well, because I review armored cases for ZDNet, and the device lived its entire life between case reviews in an OtterBox Defender. Here's a link to a review of the product.

As a refresher, the OtterBox Defender is a ultra-protective, armored polycarbonate clamshell case wrapped in silicone rubber with a permanent screen protector.

It's considered to be bulky and expensive ($49.95 retail for the basic black) compared to just about every case out there, but it's virtually impossible to scratch or dent your device with one on, and it laughs at fairly typical drops and falls that would otherwise destroy or seriously damage a caseless iPhone.

It has a highly raised bezel, reinforced corners and the polycarbonate/rubber combo adds tremendous rigidity and strength. If Batman carried an iPhone, he'd be using an OtterBox Defender.

Griffin's Survivor, and Trident's Kraken AMS are similar in design and are also excellent products. I've looked at and used all of them.

In total, the iPhone 6 in question may have jumped between review cases from these vendors an entire five minutes for its entire lifetime since it left the original packaging and accessories -- which sat on my shelf in my office, untouched, waiting to be returned with the device a year later.

I have no way to prove this to you other the fact that from the day that Apple sends out its iPhone or iPad event invite, I place an email to the folks at OtterBox, Griffin and Trident to be put on their review case list.

I've known the head of PR at OtterBox for so long that I remember what her maiden name was.

The cases arrive before I even get the new iPhone or iPad in my hands. The second the device arrives, I drive over to the Apple store in Boca Raton to have a Genius open the box, inspect the device, put it in the OtterBox or whichever vendor's case arrives first (since that will be the first one to get reviewed), and I buy Applecare, because you can't do it at time of purchase on Apple's web site during the crazy pre-store availability phase.

That's how serious I am when it comes to taking care of these things. I don't want to take any chances with them. In the case of the iPhone, I usually buy the highest-end model so it will have the highest resale value.

I usually buy the highest-end, Wi-Fi-only iPad, and I intend on purchasing the iPad Pro 128GB Wi-Fi when pre-orders open up in October.

Last month, I had an inkling that the iPad Pro was going to be announced soon. So I decided to take advantage of the relatively high offer price Amazon had at the time for my iPad Air 2.

I removed it from its OtterBox, in which it spent most of its life (there was a short period in which it lived in a Griffin Survivor) took the original packaging off the shelf, which included the original 12W charger and original charger cable (I never use them) and shipped it off to Amazon at my local UPS Store.

Amazon received it in a few days. This is what they offered me.


They knocked 43 dollars off. I went nuts. The device was in perfect condition, in original packaging, with original, never used accessories. I called their customer service and complained. They apologized and credited me the 43 bucks and thanked me for being a loyal Amazon customer.

So what happened with my iPhone 6? Well, not so good.


First of all, I did not place the trade-in order with the option to return the device. In my entire trade-in order history, I've always elected to take the credit. So, Amazon, thanks for screwing up.

Second, it was graded as a "Good". Again, like the iPad Air 2, this device came in original packaging, with original, never-used accessories, and it didn't have a single scratch on it. So thanks for that as well.

Needless to say we called Amazon's customer support and I gave them an earful.

Basically, I got the rep to admit that it is more or less standard practice for them to automatically downgrade the condition of the device no matter what condition it is in. And as it turns out, there's no way for Amazon to contact that department to verify what happened when they receive the device -- apparently, this is a service that they outsource.

Over the last two years that I've been using Amazon Trade-In (and I've been using it since 2012) I've noticed they've degraded my device from what I've stated its condition has been, every single time.

At first, it was in smaller amounts, but now they are starting to take more and more money off.

Amazon has flagged my account and asked that the second I receive my device back from them, they'll process the original offer of $500 and to send it back to them. Whether I'll get $500 for it when they get it back is to be determined.

Their accidental device return I'll pass off as a processing mistake. This time.

But going forward I expect them to degrade their credit offers more and more, like a crappy pawn shop, just like the ones we have down here in the seedy parts of Ft. Lauderdale where you can hock your old Glock or gold jewelry for a fraction of their value so you can buy Roxys or meth.

Why is that so? Because I think there's so many of these devices on the secondary market that they can't afford to shell out top dollar, even for "Like New" devices. But if that's the case then really, the company should conform to the standards of their competitors and have a maximum grade of "Good" and set expectations accordingly

Still, the company needs to consider their customers who are trading these things in. I think there's a difference between processing a Trade-In order from someone who is a Prime and spends $2000-$5000 a year on stuff versus the occasional customer.

The way I see it, Amazon Trade-In is a customer retention service, because they are offering credit, not cash. So for their best customers they should be paying more than Gazelle or Apple.

I'm not happy that Jeff Bezos appears to have turned Trade-In into a skeevy pawn shop. But what are you going to do? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Editorial standards