What happens to your old phone when you trade it in

In South Africa, most smartphones traded in for store credit or a discount on a new device are exported to be refurbished, while a handful get resold locally.

“As there are no local refurbishment facilities, most devices that get traded in are exported. If the device’s condition falls into the grade-A variety, it is sold locally,” Cellucity owner Sean Joffe told MyBroadband.

Joffe said unprecedented demand for consumer electronics is placing pressure on rare earth metal supplies, making device trade-ins the next step forward.

“As devices reach the end of their lifecycle, we can recover the rare earth metals and lithium cobalt which is in huge demand and under serious constraints globally — with the Chinese controlling up to 90% of the supply,” Joffe said.

Incredible Connection marketing executive Stef Michael said their trade-in service reduces the amount of unused technology ending up in landfills.

“We recover as much value as possible by repairing and refurbishing devices, which then get re-purposed,” Michael said.

“Components or e-waste that has reached its end-of-life enter a recycling process, ensuring ethical and accountable recycling in compliance with local and international regulatory guidelines and requirements,” he said.

Estimates show that some homes have up to six unused mobile devices, said Cellucity’s Joffe.

Consumers who wish to trade in their old devices can typically use an online quotation service to estimate a device’s value before going to the store to trade it in.

Joffe said sales professionals or specialist repair technicians then typically grade the devices to make a final offer on the device.

Cellucity employees use proprietary software to determine an immediate quote based on the in-store assessment.

“These phones are then dispatched to a central hub where they are re-graded. Since there is a degree of subjectivity involved in the process, any discrepancies in value have significant implications,” Joffe said.

“The consequence of this process, which is widely used, is that store sales professionals can err on the side of caution if not properly trained, and resultingly undervalue trade-in devices.”

Some more commonly overlooked damages include liquid damage, screen burn on older Samsung devices, hairline screen cracks, and indentations on the device’s corners.

Because of this, consumers can sometimes receive only a third of the advertised value, Joffe said.

Consumers trading in their older devices must visit the relevant retailer to complete the process.

“Thus, where possible, we use our trained in-store repair technicians to do the assessments for maximum accuracy in grading,” Joffe said.

He also explained that Samsung’s trade-in campaign for the Galaxy S22 is an overwhelming success because it offers customers a flat R5,000 or R7,000 — as long as the device switches on.

Initially, Samsung offered people with qualifying devices R10,000 regardless of condition, provided they turn on.

“The campaign removes all the uncertainty and risk at the store and is now the high-water mark for the industry,” he said.

“Since we started with the trade-in concept several years ago, we can now see a far wider acceptance by consumers to trade in their older devices or even purchase high-quality refurbished devices,” Joffe said.

“The conversation ought to really be around about recycling — almost every phone that can be traded in and recycled means one less device is manufactured, which must have a positive effect on the global carbon footprint.”

Now read: Smartphone trade-ins in South Africa — Oppo, Xiaomi, Huawei need to step up

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What happens to your old phone when you trade it in