Just as the number of mobile devices is steadily increasing, so are the ways in which those devices can be purchased. On Tuesday, big-box retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced a new smartphone trade-in program that could significantly influence how customers buy -- or sell -- their smartphones.
The program, launching in the U.S. on Sept. 21, will be available in more than 3,600 Walmart and Sam's Club outlets. Users who bring in a working smartphone could receive an immediate credit between $50 and $300.
Steve Bratspies, executive vice president of general merchandise for Walmart U.S., told news media that "customers are choosing where they purchase new smartphones based on where they get the best value for their trade-ins."
He added that the company's goal is "to give them more value for their old devices and the lowest price for the new one," in an effort to become "the best destination for wireless." The company has said its trade-in program is consistent with its sustainability goals, by helping customers to "recycle smartphones responsibly." It also pledged that traded-in smartphones will not be sent to any landfills in this country or another.
Walmart will accept more than 100 different models, as long as they are working and undamaged. An iPhone 5 could receive up to a $300 credit, a Samsung Galaxy S3 could bring as much as $175 and a Galaxy S2 might ring up $50.
Depending on the trade-in, a customer might be able to buy an iPhone 5 for under $100 and a Galaxy S for something in the neighborhood of $140 or less. These include a two-year contract with AT&T, Sprint or Verizon. If a customer so desires, the credit from a trade-in can be used for phones available on prepaid plans, such as Straight Talk.
Walmart said a smartphone's value will be determined by "answering simple, unbiased questions on the devices condition and specifications." Additionally, customers can also receive credit on a Walmart gift card by trading in used tablets, MP3 players, video games, cameras or laptops.
'The Smartphone Era'
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, told us that "we're well into the smartphone era in the United States, so there are plenty of smartphones to create a secondary market."
Given that there are a variety of ways to buy smartphones and carrier plans through Costco, Amazon, or now a trade-in program with Walmart, Greengart was asked why customers might choose to go to a carrier store.
He replied that "some customers prefer shopping at a carrier retailer in case they have questions about the plan options" or the device, which attests to the importance of good customer service in the evolution of mobile device distribution channels. Greengart also noted that "some customers actually prefer to pay their bills at the carrier stores."