iPhone trade-ins 'shoot through the roof' as consumers lust for larger iPhone 5

Volume up 2,500% over last year's pre-iPhone 4S announcement activity

iPhone owners are selling their old models at an historic pace because the rumored iPhone 5 will sport a new form factor, electronics trade-in companies said today.

"We saw volume shoot through the roof," said Jeff Trachsel, chief marketing officer at NextWorth, one of several companies that purchase used smartphones, refurbish the devices, then resell them on eBay and Amazon.com, sell directly to overseas customers, and deal with wholesalers that ship to emerging markets. "We've never seen a spike like this."

Trachsel said the number of quotes last week offered to iPhone owners was up 2,500% over the comparable week before last year's announcement of the iPhone 4S.

Gazelle, another iPhone buyer, also has fielded more trade-in requests. "There's definitely been an increase," said Anthony Scarsella, chief gadget officer at Gazelle. "We've seen a 50% increase over the past few weeks."

Scarsella said he did not yet have data comparing this year's sales rush with that of 2011.

Online auctioneer eBay also said trade-in interest was up, with the number of quotes generated at its Instant Sales website during the period Aug. 1 through Aug. 26 triple that over the same stretch in 2011.

Both Trachsel and Scarsella credited the expected change in screen size, and a corresponding new design, for the increased interest in ditching old phones for what most have called the "iPhone 5."

"The spike this time happened a week or two earlier than last year," said Trachsel. "That's a sign of the pent-up demand out there for a new form factor."

Scarsella agreed. "Even people with an iPhone 4S are trading in," he said. "The iPhone 5 will probably have a new body style, so the 4S will look outdated."

The iPhone has had the same look since mid-2010 when Apple launched the iPhone 4.

Speculation has mounted all month that Apple will host an iPhone launch event on Sept. 12, and will start selling the new model Sept. 21. Apple has not yet announced the event or emailed invitations to reporters and analysts.

Gazelle responded last week to the anticipated Sept. 21 on-sale date by extending its usual 30-day quote guarantee until Oct. 1 for sellers who obtain a trade-in quote by Aug. 31. NextWorth may offer something similar, adding time to its 21-day guarantee, to cover the Sept. 21 date as well, said Trachsel.

eBay had a simpler explanation for the recent trade-in jump: The iPhone 5's expected introduction is three weeks earlier than the iPhone 4S, which Apple rolled out Oct. 4, 2011. "The anticipated/rumored launch of the new iPhone is a bit earlier this year, so people may be looking into trade-in options earlier & so were seeing the spike start sooner this year," said Todd Witkemper, an eBay spokesman.

Prices have not yet begun to fall sharply as more people decide to dump their older iPhones.

NextWorth iPhone quote
NextWorth's Monday quote for an AT&T 16GB iPhone 4S was $300.

"We're holding up pretty well," said Trachsel, referring to quoted prices. "But we expect that [decline in prices] to kick in soon. We're probably near the end of the price increases."

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