Dumping a Surface? eBay averages double the return of a buyback vendor

Loyal Surface owners complained last week that Microsoft doesn't take trade-ins, but online auctions put more cash in pocket than any buyback deal

First-generation Surface owners have complained that Microsoft won't buy their used tablets to fund their jones for the new editions slated to ship in three weeks, but other markets can actually return much more cash than any trade-in program.

Online auctioneer eBay is a good example.

According to eBay, which Computerworld asked to mine its data, the average selling price of a first-generation 32GB Surface RT tablet is currently $US285.

The Surface RT debuted almost a year ago at $US499 with 32GB of internal storage space -- reduced to approximately 15GB for user content because of the operating system and its restoration files -- but now sells for $US349 after being heavily discounted this summer.

Meanwhile, a 128GB Surface Pro tablet sells for an average $US741 on eBay, the company said.

Surface Pro, launched in February, runs a full-fledged version of Windows 8 able to handle legacy applications, and is not a scaled-back device like the Surface RT, which is capable of running only tile-style "Modern," nee "Metro," apps. A 128GB Surface Pro originally cost $999 without a cover-keyboard, but it, too, was reduced this summer by Microsoft, and currently lists for $899.

Microsoft also sells a 64GB Surface Pro for $US799, or $US100 less than its initial price.

The new tablets, the Surface 2, a replacement for the Surface RT, and the Surface Pro 2, will reach retail on Oct. 22, and start at prices of $449 and $899, respectively, for a 32GB or 64GB device.

During a two-hour Reddit-hosted "Ask Me Anything" last week, owners of Microsoft's first-generation tablets urged the company to run a trade-in or buyback program so they could apply their returns to the new models.

Several commenters, however, scoffed at such a deal. Instead, they steered people to the open market.

"Try Craigslist or eBay, it takes 5 minutes to make an Ad and youll [sic] get more $$ for it," said "Daylife321" in one example.

According to eBay's figures, Daylife321 was on to something.

Although Microsoft does not buy back used Surface tablets -- it does accept Apple's iPad, Apple's iPhone, and a slew of smartphones and tablets running Android -- re-commerce companies do.

The average selling price for a 128GB Surface Pro is $US741, the auctioneer said, although this one will probably close at a much lower price.

On Monday, buyback firms Gazelle and NextWorth quoted $US117 and $US187 for a 32GB Surface RT, respectively, and $US370 and $US338 for a 128GB Surface Pro.

eBay's average selling price of $US285 for the 32GB Surface RT was 144 per cent and 52 per cent higher than the Gazelle and NextWorth quotes, respectively. The auction website's average sales price of $US741 for a 128GB Surface Pro was 100 per cent and 119 per cent higher than Gazelle and NextWorth, respectively.

Gazelle will pay an additional $US37 for a Surface RT or Surface Pro that comes with a Touch- or Type Cover. Many, although not all, of the eBay listings also include a keyboard cover, but eBay didn't provide separate averages for those with and without. Comparing Gazelle's higher quotes with eBay's averages, however, still gives the latter a large edge when a cover is in the mix: 85% more for a Surface RT, 82% higher than Gazelle's quote for a Surface Pro.

Naturally, there are downsides to selling on eBay, Craigslist or another open seller-to-buyer market, as several Reddit AMA participants pointed out.

"[The advantage of a buyback or trade-in program] is [that it's] a sure price versus an unsure price," said "johnlennin" on Reddit. "Even if it's not a ton of money, the usefulness of a trade in program is it fits into a budget. Craigslist/eBay are fickle and take a lot of time (especially Craigslist)."

Another commenter agreed, and illustrated the consumer thinking that re-commerce vendors like Gazelle and NextWorth rely on. "I'd rather go right to the Microsoft Store knowing what I am getting and not going through the hassle of finding the right price for my [Surface] Pro," wrote "maiettag."

But even with the price advantages of a sell-it-yourself strategy, eBay said it hadn't seen a measurable increase in the number of Surface tablets up at auction.

"The average number of listings for the Microsoft Surface [Pro] and Microsoft Surface RT on eBay have remained consistent over the past month," said a company spokeswoman. "eBay has not seen any significant increase in the number of listings for these products during that time period."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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