We bought a new computer recently. In addition to the rather steep learning curve involved in putting the thing to use (old dog, new trick), we needed to go through the various steps needed to dispose of the old one.
The mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” prompted us to do several things:
- “Reduce” the amount of personal data on the hard drive to zero;
- “Reuse” the machine by donating it to a worthy user (since its age made resale out of the question); and
- “Recycle” any parts and accessories possible.
Looking back on the process, we wondered if it would have been easier had buy-back programs been around when we bought the old computer. Buy-backs are gaining in popularity, as owners opt for ways to avoid adding to the mountains of electronic junk we create.
Manufacturers have heard the outcry from environmental groups and consumers over e-waste. Some of them have responded by offering buy-back programs, which give buyers a pro-rated rebate based on the age and condition of their computer or other electronic device.
The program works roughly as follows: When you buy your new laptop, smart phone, HDTV or whatever, the salesperson offers you a buy-back option; the cost varies depending on the price of your purchase and kind of device.
In the case of Best Buy’s Buy Back Program, you keep your purchase for between one month and four years. When you want to upgrade, Best Buy gives you a gift card for an amount that slides downward, depending on the length of time you’ve owned the gadget. The advertised percentages you’re paid assume that the item is in good condition; more than normal wear-and-tear can cut returns in half; if it’s in really rough shape, you might get nothing.
A company called Tech Forward offers a private label program to retailers including Walmart and Radio Shack. Tech Forward promotes its trade-named Guaranteed Buyback plans as fostering recycling and reuse, as well as offering consumers some money back.
For consumers who must have the newest gizmo the second it hits the stores (and you know who you are), buy-backs may make sense, especially in the case of “lowest advertised prices” that don’t change. For the rest of us, buy-backs deserve scrutiny to determine what they really offer.
The bottom line is this: They’re a great deal … for the seller. Many of us will keep our computers well past four years or whatever sunset the deal includes. In those cases, even what seems a small up-front cost is simply lost money.
The gift card angle is a great way for retailers to bring buyers back into their stores. Why be forced to shop at only one place, where prices may or may not be lower when you’re ready to buy? Retailers must love having you pay in order to remain loyal. (We understand you can get a buy-back program directly from Tech Forward, under which the company will issue you a check.)
Sales pitch-hardened consumers might see buy-backs as simply another way for sellers to make money. As with any purchase, learn all the details and demands before buying.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to http://necontact.wordpress.com, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.