Best Buy does what Microsoft won't: Takes Surface tablets in trade

Offers maximum of $350 for a 128GB Surface Pro; gives back gift card; deal valid through Oct. 21

Microsoft won't buy back used first-generation Surface tablets, but its retail partner Best Buy will.

Best Buy's Surface trade-in program kicked off Sunday, Oct. 6 and runs through Monday, Oct. 21. The latter is the day before Microsoft launches the second-generation Surface tablets, which start at $449 for the Surface 2 and $899 for the more capable Surface Pro 2.

The Verge first reported on Best Buy's trade-in deal in a story yesterday.

Microsoft customers who purchased the original Surface tablets have begged the company to buy back their devices so that they can fund purchases of the new models week after next. Although Microsoft has iPhone and iPad buyback programs in place, it has not instituted one for its own Surface.

Best Buy stepped in to do just that: According to its website, it will pay a minimum of $200 and a maximum of $350 "when you trade in your Surface tablet." Payment is not in cash, but instead in the form of a Best Buy gift card that can be used for in-store and online purchases.

There's some confusing details on the Best Buy website, however. When a customer clicks through to the trade-in estimation tool, the quoted values of the original Surface RT, the struggling tablet powered by a stripped down version of Windows 8, are lower than the $200 minimum the retail mentioned.

A 32GB Surface RT in "good" condition -- the topmost available -- will bring in just $150, according to the estimation tool, while a 64GB Surface RT was listed at $175.

Best Buy did not immediately reply to questions early Friday, including ones about the contradicting minimum values.

A used Surface Pro, the tablet that runs Windows 8 Pro and so can launch legacy Windows applications rather than just the "Metro" tile- and touch-based apps, can bring in as much as $315 (for the 64GB model) and $350 (for the 128GB device).

Other "re-commerce" vendors will also buy used Surface tablets, and unlike Best Buy, will return cash rather than what's essentially a credit toward future purchases.

Companies like Gazelle and NextWorth specialize in buying used smartphones and tablets. They then resell them on eBay or in bulk to distributors in developing countries where demand is high but incomes are low.

NextWorth, for example, currently offers $337.67 for a 64GB Surface Pro and $305.55 for a 128GB model; and $138.50 for a 32GB Surface RT and $196.32 for a 64GB Surface RT.

Meanwhile, Gazelle now pays $287 for a 64GB Surface Pro and $353 for a 128GB Surface Pro; and $131 for a 32GB Surface RT and $151 for a 64GB Surface RT. Gazelle's quotes were for the tablet and power supply only; it will pay more if the seller throws in one of the Microsoft-made keyboard covers.

It's not surprising that Best Buy offered to exchange used Surface tablets for gift cards: The U.S. electronics retailer is tight with Microsoft.

In June, Microsoft announced a deal with Best Buy to create 600 stores-within-stores in the U.S. and Canada to sell customers on Windows 8, the Surface tablet line, and new PCs and devices from other OEMs. Most of the store-inside-store remodels have been completed.

The "Windows Store" -- as they're called -- have replaced Best Buy's computer department in the 600 stores, 500 of them in the U.S., the remainder in Canada.

Although Microsoft and Best Buy have not disclosed the financial details of the deal, one retail analyst called it a clear win for the latter. "This is a big win for Best Buy," said Stephen Baker of NPD Group, in a June interview. "They get a free remodel of their PC department in 600 stores."

Microsoft has approximately 70 of its own stores, many of them small store fronts, in the U.S. and Canada.

Best Buy did not respond to questions about whether Microsoft was funding or supporting the Surface buyback program.

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

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