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Best Buy's buy back deal really no deal at all

Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP file

Best Buy customers in the check-out line.

Buy something electronic, whether it’s a TV, computer or cell phone, and you know it won’t be long before something better comes along. Best Buy’s Buy Back Program is targeted at people who want to upgrade without taking a big loss. 

Best Buy says Buy Back “future-proofs your technology, so you can have confidence to buy the latest and greatest now” and bring back your old product when you’re ready. The store guarantees that customers who buy the plan will get “up to 50 percent of the original purchase price” or 10 percent more than the trade-in price, whichever is greater. 

On its website, Best Buy says it is providing convenience, value and certainty. The price for this “peace of mind” is based on the product. It’s $49.99 for all tablets, laptops, desktops and E-Readers, $69.99 for a camcorder of $450 or more and $99.99 for a TV in the $1,200 to $2,499.99 price range. 

In a statement to msnbc.com, Best Buy spokeswoman Kelly Groehler says the Buy Back Program is designed to make sure older, obsolete technology is handled or disposed of responsibly. “And if the consumer can get some value in return,” she says, “it’s certainly a choice we want to offer them.” 

Don’t do it, says Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumerworld.org. “It’s a complete waste of money.” 

Chris Morran, senior editor at TheConsumerist.com (owned by Consumer Reports) calls it “a sucker bet.” 

“It’s a complete up-sell,” Morran says. “They can lower their margin on the actual item but still make a profit by up-selling you on this thing that you are not likely to ever use.” 

And now the fine print
The amount you’ll receive when you return the item is based on two things: how long you’ve had it, and its condition. 

The clock starts ticking 31 days after the purchase, and the MOST you can get is: 

  • Up to 50 percent within 6 months
  • Up to 40 percent within 6 to 12 months
  • Up to 30 percent back within 12 to 18 months
  • Up to 20 percent within 18 to 24
  • Up to 20 percent back within 18 to 48 months on TVs only

The product’s condition is determined by Best Buy’s Geek Squad. 

To get the maximum refund it must be “in good working order with all of the originally included parts and accessories.” You must also provide the original receipt showing purchase of the item and the Buy Back plan. 

If the item is in poor condition, the maximum refund amount is cut in half. If the Geek Squad determines the device is “substantially impaired” it will not be accepted and the cost of the Buy Back plan will not be refunded. 

Substantially impaired includes: water damage, insect/rodent damage or infestation, other damage that cannot be easily repaired, or a recalled product that was not repaired or replaced. 

Should anything originally included in the package be missing, the payout will be reduced by the replacement value of those accessories or items. 

The rules also spell out that the amount of the buyback offer is not negotiable. It’s take it or leave it. 

One more thing to consider: if the item is accepted, you don’t get cash or even a credit to your credit card account. You get a Best Buy gift card. What if they don’t carry the gee-whiz-wow product you’re looking for? Or what if another retailer has it at a lower price? You’re stuck. 

Do the math
Let’s assume you want to upgrade a $500 laptop 20 months after you bought it at Best Buy. Your total pre-tax price, including the buyback guarantee was $549.99. If the laptop is in good condition and you still have all the original accessories, you should get back $100. So you paid $50 to save at most $50. 

“That’s crazy,” Consumerworld’s Dworsky says. “You could make much more money putting that thing on Craigslist or eBay rather than paying someone to give you a lousy buyback price. And if you sell it yourself, you’ll get cash not a gift card.” 

There is another option. Check out the free trade-in programs now offered by a number of retailers, such as Walmart, RadioShack, Costco, Target, Staples, Amazon.com and even Best Buy. If the product is accepted you’ll still get a gift card to that store. But there’s no upfront fee involved. And the item does not have to be from that retailer.

The bottom line
Consumer Reports magazine suggests that you skip Best Buy’s Buy Back Program because “it is not a good deal.” The editors say you should buy the gadgets that suit your needs at the best price, and trade them in for an upgrade if you need to. 

They also point out that this program could “make you feel like you need to upgrade even if your gadget is working perfectly fine a year later.”