Considering the record number of pre-orders for the iPhone 4, you'd think Apple's (AAPL) rabid buyers could care less about price discounts. But it turns out that these folks -- the early adopters who in general tend to be willing to buy the latest and greatest at any price -- do in fact care about cutting costs.
And retailers appear ready to oblige. When RadioShack, Best Buy (BBY) and Walmart (WMT) begin selling the iPhone 4 this Thursday, they'll be offering trade-in programs that could potentially cut the cost of a new iPhone 4 down to a third of the price -- or even make it free.
Which Retailer Offers the Best Trade-In Deal?
Under RadioShack's promotion, which runs through Saturday, folks can trade in their old iPhone 3G for $100 or an iPhone 3GS for $200 -- regardless of whether it's a 16- or 32-gigabyte model. That can go a long way toward slicing the cost of a new iPhone 4, which is set to retail for $199 for a 16-GB model and $299 for a 32-GB.
RadioShack has only three criteria for a trade in: The iPhone turns on, the screen isn't cracked and the phone has no water damage. The company's "Trade & Save" program allows customers to have their old iPhones and other electronic devices appraised, traded in and receive an instant store credit on a RadioShack gift card.
"There's no waiting for a gift card in the mail," says Eric Bruner, a RadioShack spokesman, in an email interview. "This means that you can trade a used device like iPhone 3G or iPhone 3Gs and immediately apply the value you receive from the trade in toward the purchase of another device at RadioShack, like iPhone 4."
Wal-Mart Stores appear to offer the next best deal, with its electronics trade-in program run in partnership with online consumer electronics recycling giant Gazelle. The trade-in program basically queries iPhone owners about whether their used device makes calls successfully, is free of water damage, is in good condition and has its AC adapter and cables. A 16-GB iPhone 3GS could potentially fetch a trade-in value of $158, while a 32-GB version could land $188.
One downside of the program is participants need to mail in their device and offer printout to Wal-Mart, which will honor the price for up to 30 days. If folks have chosen to turn in one of their old iPhones and apply the trade-in payment toward an iPhone 4, they could find themselves without a phone for roughly a week. Wal-Mart estimates it takes about a week for it to send back a gift card, once it receives the old electronics.
Best Buy's Process Is More Complicated
Even though Best Buy takes trade-ins, its devices go through a more rigorous evaluation, and payouts can be lower than those that Radio Shack and Wal-Mart are offering. For example, an iPhone 3GS with 16 GB could fetch $119 and a 32-GB model potentially $159, according to Best Buy's "Trade-In Center" estimator.
And if you're looking for instant gratification, you should know that the big-box retailer only will trade -- in the store -- with customers who bought their used device from Best Buy and who can show proof of purchase, either via a receipt or via the Best Buy database. Customers who can't show they bought their old iPhone from Best Buy can still make the trade via snail mail, which Best Buy estimates can take up to two weeks.
Still, Best Buy has high expectations that iPhone users will use its program to buy their iPhone 4. "We see real value for customers doing this and believe many will take this option with the iPhone 4 or any mobile phone they purchase at Best Buy," says Best Buy spokesman Jeff Haydock.
Other companies, such as Cellforcash.com and FlipSwap, also offer trade-ins for aging iPhones, notes a Helium blog post. But in some cases, potential sellers have complained of never receiving their payment from businesses like Cellforcash.com, turning that old saying of "buyer beware" on its head. Cellforcash.com didn't immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Of course, iPhone 4 buyers who don't want to spend time trading in their old iPhone or other electronic devices can always pay the full retail price. In the eyes of AT&T (T), which is the exclusive U.S. iPhone carrier and isn't offering any trade-in deals, full price isn't bad. Quips AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel: "You can get one. . . for as little as $199. To me, that is a great price."
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