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The Ultimate Guide to Trading In Your Galaxy Phone

You wouldn’t think it’d be risky to send your old smartphone to Samsung in the hopes of saving some dough on a shiny new Galaxy S10, but the tech giant has been struggling to field smartphone trade-ins as of late.

Last week, reports emerged on Reddit and Twitter that the company was refusing some customers’ trade-in requests in odd ways. Some individuals were told that they had sent the wrong device and Samsung would not honor the trade-in. Others were informed that their phone both couldn’t be turned on and was not properly reformatted before hand, which is a teensy bit contradictory.

Ordinarily, sending your phone into the original manufacturer to save on a new model is a great idea. You get a newer, better device and get to keep some cash in your pocket; your old phone is either responsibly recycled or repurposed into a good-as-new refurb for someone else.

But given the recent tales of frustration, you might be a little hesitant to trade your old handset in to Samsung. For that reason, we’ve highlighted a few of the best sites for selling your phone, in case you’re looking for an alternative to Samsung. And just to ensure the process goes as seamlessly as possible for you, we’ve enlisted the help of experts from the leading tech resellers to hash out some tips and best practices, so that you’re guaranteed to get the maximum you deserve.

Phone Trade-In Dos and Don’ts

You’ll want to exercise a certain degree of caution when selling your phone, no matter whether it’s headed to a reseller, back to the original manufacturer or to an individual buyer. That obviously means wiping the device clean, removing all accounts and personal data and reformatting the memory.

Additionally, many consumers would likely guess that you earn more for a used phone before its successor comes out. But the plunge in value is even steeper than you would imagine, according to what Decluttr chief marketing officer Liam Howley told us.

“What we typically see is when the S10 comes out or the next iPhone, what typically happens to trade-in values is they’ll drop by an average of 35 percent post-launch,” Howley told Tom’s Guide in an interview. “So, key tip for consumers is timing-wise, it’s best to trade in before the new launch.”

At this point, that might be little consolation to current Galaxy owners since the S10 already hit the market back in March — though it is certainly something to keep in mind for future phone upgrades.

“If you want to take advantage of [a promotion] with Samsung, that’s your prerogative. But see what’s out in the market, see what your options are." —Liam Howley, CMO, Decluttr

Although sites like Decluttr have made great strides in taking the frustration out of pawning off your device, there’s always potential for hiccups in the process. Perhaps your handset isn’t in quite as good (or bad) condition as you described. That’s why it helps to be as educated on the criteria as possible — something Gazelle, another well-known phone buyback specialist, works to achieve through guides and videos on its website and social channels.

“For consumers, cosmetic condition is important,” Yanyan Ji, Gazelle’s senior vice president of marketing, told Tom’s Guide. “However, people don’t realize that sometimes, when you have a case, it actually hurts your value a little bit because there are a lot of things that we check that the consumer maybe isn’t realizing [with the case on]."

Ji contends that lack of awareness about grading criteria is one of the biggest pain points consumers face when selling or trading in their phones. That said, both Gazelle and Decluttr are prepared to adapt to the worst case scenario. If their technicians value your device at less than you did, you can always have it shipped back for free, no questions asked.

In fact, Ji tells us that if your phone happens to be in much better condition than you think, Gazelle will actually raise your offer.

“There are some cases — not just rare cases, but it happens every day — where you were too humble with your device, and we actually think it’s worth a little bit more than you think it is,” Ji said. “We will actually write you an email saying ‘Hey, we want to pay you more.’ That happens — it’s a single digit percentage — but it happens every day.”

No matter what you do, you should always compare every course of action available to you, Howley reminded us. That includes buyback sites, auctioning off your phone on a marketplace like eBay, or trading it in to your cellular carrier.

“If you want to take advantage of [a promotion] with Samsung, that’s your prerogative,” Howley said. “But see what’s out in the market, see what your options are. You are potentially going to end up with less money. You’re certainly not going to end up with cash, you’re going to end up with credit toward your next phone.

Unfortunately, you may not get as much money selling your Galaxy S8 or S9 to a third-party specialist as you would going the Samsung route, or through your carrier. That’s because Samsung, as well as the major networks, are able to run promotions to lead you into another two-year installment plan.

Still, it’s worth having a look around to see what else is out there — and here’s what you can expect to find at an assortment of resellers.

Gazelle

If you’ve entertained the prospect of selling your phone, laptop or any other device in the last decade, chances are Gazelle is already on your radar. Gazelle has been active in this space just about as long as anyone, totaling 19 million trade-ins since being founded in 2006, and it’s pretty much mastered the science of paying you for your unwanted tech.

Gazelle’s approach is simple: answer a few brief yes/no questions about your device, like if it can power on or if it’s cosmetically damaged in any way. Gazelle will return with a quote instantly. At that point, you don’t need to wait around to send in your old phone — Gazelle pays for shipping and will send you a box and provide the label. The company will inspect your device, and it’s just as you described, it’ll issue payment swiftly — within 7 to 10 days.

If there’s one downside to Gazelle, the site does tend to offer a bit less than others for the same phone. An unlocked 64GB Galaxy S8 in great condition and without scratches will nab $158 on Gazelle, while the same phone will get you $183 on Decluttr and about $200 on Swappa (which is a direct user-to-user marketplace as opposed to a strict trade-in site).

That said, Gazelle offers advantages others don’t. The site regularly runs promotions on social media, allowing users to get a bit more in return for certain products during select times. It also operates a 30-day offer lock guarantee, allowing particularly savvy early adopters to guarantee a price for their old phone before the new model is out — thereby skirting the drop in value — and ship the used handset in once they’ve already gotten their hands on the new version. In fact, Gazelle occasionally extends the offer lock period up to 45 days, particularly around the time a hot new model is about to hit stores.

Gazelle also offers an alternative to mail-in phone sales, through a brand called ecoATM. EcoATM operates 3,800 automated kiosks in big box retailers around the U.S., allowing you to deposit your phone, have it evaluated electronically on the spot and walk away with cash in your hand in just 7 minutes.

Decluttr

Decluttr is another highly recommended site for those interested in a convenient and safe way of squeezing cash from old tech. It’s also zero-risk, which should provide some peace of mind when trying to get the most for your pricey handset.

Decluttr offers free insured shipping when you send your device into its warehouse. The company’s technicians use third-party diagnostic software to ensure errors in processing are minimal, and Decluttr will pay you the very next day if it passes evaluation. Should the device differ from the condition you selected, Decluttr will revise its offer, keeping you informed about the status every step of the way. If you decide not to take up Decluttr on its new proposal, the company will send your phone back, free of charge.

Decluttr says on its website that “it pays the most for tech,” and, at least compared to other buyback sites, we found that claim to be true. While the difference in Galaxy S8 valuation wasn’t massively better with Decluttr, the site did offer $84 more for a Galaxy S9 Plus in good condition compared to Swappa.

Average Trade-In Rates for Samsung Phones*


Gazelle
Decluttr
Swappa**
Amazon
Best Buy
Walmart
Galaxy S8
$158
$183
$209
$131
$104
$110
Galaxy S8 Plus
$175
$207
$249
$157
$120
$127
Galaxy S9
$217
$286
$324
$220
$294
$310
Galaxy S9 Plus
$236
$320
$394
$258
$345
$364

*All rates reflect manufacturer unlocked models with base 64GB storage in good working condition with no major cosmetic damage.
**Swappa rates reflect average sale prices and vary based on listing. Fees are not included.

Additionally, with Decluttr you won’t have to worry about being told your phone’s data hasn’t been wiped, even when it has. Should you actually forget to delete your personal information, Decluttr will work with you to remotely reset your device while it’s at the company’s warehouse.

“Some of the feedback that I’ve seen with the Samsung stuff is just a bit like lack of transparency and lack of clarity in terms of where the device is up to and what’s happened,” Howley said. “That’s why communication is so important to us.”

Like Gazelle, Decluttr also locks your offer in for a little while after you’ve submitted it — 28 days in Decluttr’s case.

Swappa

Unlike Decluttr and Gazelle, which will buy your phone from you and resell it to another customer, Swappa is a platform that specializes in direct user-to-user sales for all kinds of tech — not just phones.

Because Swappa is more of a general marketplace, like eBay, there’s potential to get more for your sale. On the flip side, however, you will have to do a bit more work using Swappa than you would through a service like Gazelle. You’ll have to put together an entire listing with a description and pictures, and you’re on your own for figuring out shipping as well.

MORE: Best Galaxy S10 Deals Right Now

Thankfully, Swappa’s website is slick and easy to use, making composing listings a breeze. Additionally, Swappa’s fees are straightforward to decipher. Rather than taking a percentage, as eBay does, Swappa takes flat fees: $5 for sales up to $100, $10 for sales between $100 and $300, and $15 for sales between $300 and $500.

I personally used Swappa to sell my iPhone 7 late last year and was very pleased with the experience. That said, it’s not for everyone. Although Swappa goes to great lengths to ensure there’s as little friction between buyers and sellers as possible, you are dealing with other individuals, so there’s more room for things to go wrong. If you want a hassle-free solution, we’d recommend Gazelle, Decluttr, or another reputable buyback site.

Retailer Trade-Ins

If you’ve purchased a phone from a third-party retailer in the past, like Amazon, Best Buy or Walmart, you may already be aware that these companies will also accept your old phone in exchange for gift cards or credit toward a new model.

In many cases, the process is even more straightforward than going through a buyback site, because everything can be handled on the spot at a brick-and-mortar location, and you don’t have to worry about shipping your device in (obviously, that doesn’t pertain to Amazon, though).

However, this option begins to fall apart once you survey the money most retailers offer in return, particularly for older models. Earlier, we were looking at anywhere from about $160 to $200 for our well-looked after Galaxy S8 from Gazelle, Decluttr or Swappa. Amazon, on the other hand, is pledging to offer $130 at the most. Walmart, which partners with CExchange to handle its trade-ins, will only give up to $110. And Best Buy — which doesn’t even offer the option to list your phone as unlocked to net a higher return — goes no further than a paltry $104, according to its website.

Strangely though, if you’re selling a Galaxy S9, these sites offer far more competitive rates, with Amazon coming in at $220 and Best Buy hitting a whopping $294, which is even beyond what Decluttr will give you. So it could simply be that retailers much prefer building up a stock of newer models, and are reluctant to accept older ones. Just remember that like Samsung, they’re unlikely to give you cold, hard cash for your sale.

Online Classifieds

Last but not least, there are sites like Craigslist and Reddit — boards that allow you to post whatever you want, with the most freedom and without any fees to pay, albeit obviously with the greatest risk.

Because no correspondence is being watched or managed, and no paper trail is kept to confirm the sale, you have to tread extra carefully if you’re trying to sell your phone in these kinds of spaces. Unless you’re particularly experienced in selling your personal belongings online, we recommend you steer clear of those paths.

Bottom Line

While Samsung’s recent trade-in troubles may have put you off from selling your aged Galaxy handset back to the phone maker for the time being, there are at least alternatives. In fact, the sites mentioned here represent just a fraction of the options at your disposal.

Ultimately, only you can decide which option fits your needs the best. Services like Decluttr and Gazelle tend to be the safest and easiest to deal with, though they limit the amount you can earn. Swappa and other marketplaces open you up to potential headaches and require more effort, but with the opportunity for a greater reward. And trading in your old phone to a retailer could either be a very good or bad call, depending on whether or not you’d prefer to have that cash in hand, and especially depending on how old your phone actually is.

Shop around for the best deal, and you might just be surprised how much you’ll be able to save on your next handset.

Credit: Tom's Guide