The Truth Behind Costco Cash-For-Gadgets Program

costcomeat.jpgWhen I learned about Costco's money-for-gadgets recycling program, I got excited. I calculated estimates for some old gadgets lying around my apartment, and I started looking forward to the $US122 bonus that would surely come my way in time for the holidays. Nearly two months later, the estimate has been revised to $US50, and I'm still waiting for the gift card. I can safely report that the truth was not nearly as good as the promise. Here's what I've been through so far:

• On October 29, I filled out forms to recycle a Treo 650, an Xbox and a PSP. Costco promised free shipping, and said that between the three gadgets I could expect $155 ($72, $33 and $50, respectively).

• Later that day I received my first bit of bad news: I wouldn't be getting prepaid boxes like I assumed. Instead, I was e-mailed shipping labels to print out and told that I would need to box and package the gadgets myself.

• By November 6, I rounded up boxes for the Treo and PSP. (I decided to skip out on sending the Xbox.) I had to drop off the packages at the closest UPS store. This was also something I did not expect to do, but when I called UPS for a pickup of the prepaid packages, they told me it would cost an additional $10 for each package, a cost I wasn't about to pay.

• I sat and waited. And sat. And waited. A full month passed before I received any response.

• Finally, on December 5, I got an e-mail with the inspection results for the Treo. To my surprise, Costco and I didn't see eye to eye on its condition. Claiming display and case defects, they gave me bitchslap of a revised quote: $0. I did a little poking around and found that this wasn't just insulting, it was wrong: using their online calculator with their condition judgment, I still should've been handed $18.


• Two days after that, my PSP quote came. Only it was for an Xbox. And the value was reduced to $29. Apparently I used the nearly identical but wrong shipping label. Is this my fault, though? How can these inspectors know the value of products right down to the penny if they can't even tell the difference between a bulky console from Microsoft and a slim portable from Sony?


• Naturally I called Costco to figure out these two significant problems. After two days of phone tag, they confirmed that I had in fact sent in a PSP, and it was worth the full value of $50. However, the Treo really was more thrashed than the online estimate tool could even calculate, and it was still worth nothing. The representative gave me the option of returning it, but I would have to pay them $10! The other choice was that they would recycle it for "free". I decided to cut my losses and sent the old girl to Treo heaven.

• When the final estimation was calculated, Costco said I would receive a $50 gift card in the mail. After 2 ½ weeks, I'm still waiting. Ho ho ho.

The moral of the story is simple: gadget recycling is a useful and beneficial service at a time when most electronics end up in landfills—EPA estimates put discarded cell phones at 130 million every year—but don't go into the Costco program expecting a large cash reward or a painless experience. I will allow that my Treo was in worse condition than I reported, and that was a mistake. Try to be completely honest in the evaluation. I can't fault Costco for wanting to knock off dinero from my original trumped-up estimate.

If you are looking for riches in exchange for your gear, your best bet is still probably eBay, and if you just want to keep your stuff from the garbage, there are plenty of charities that will gladly accept phones. If you want a bit of cash, you might try Costco, but that's not the same as saying that I recommend it, cuz I don't. [Costco, CollectiveGood Mobile Recycling]

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