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 like Mathre 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, like gazelle.com, that specialize in buying electronic castoffs. Other consumers are selling locally to pawnshops and, most recently, automated kiosks in malls.
Cellphones and MP3 players have had a modest resale market for more than a decade, but the smartphone is what's creating a sudden surge of interest, said Dan Brauser, president of uSell.
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," Brauser said.
Not only are more Americans connecting to smartphones, they're switching to a new device every 18 months instead of every two years.
Online buyers like 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 and keep it out of the waste stream, but now retailers and online buyback programs are not only keeping rejects out of the trash, but giving consumers cash or store credit.
For many consumers, the cash option is an alternative to online buy-back programs from Apple, Best Buy and Target that offer merchandise credit.
New kiosks offer another way to accomplish that. EcoATM kiosks, found in retail locations like malls or grocery stores, dispense cash on the spot for cellphones, tablets and MP3 devices.
Consumers place their device in the cradle of the kiosk, which evaluates the device and offers a value that the user can accept or refuse. EcoATM, based in San Diego, has more than 300 kiosks in 22 states and hopes to add 700 this year.