Machines buying machines. It sounds like a far-fetched scene out of a Star Wars movie, but it’s happening every day at Walmart, grocery stores and other outlets. These reverse vending machines are giving us a glimpse into what the future might look like. While there are a variety of companies offering a similar service, the most well-known is ecoATM.
Every year, Americans bring ecoATM kiosks millions of cell phones, tablets, and semi-obsolete MP3 players. However, is ecoATM really the best option to sell your unwanted gadgets? Generally speaking, that answer is a resounding “no.”
As we’ll discuss, the payouts aren’t great – or even fairly good, for that matter – and they’ve experienced no small amount of controversy. But, there are a couple of scenarios where selling to ecoATM might make sense. So, hang on for ludicrous speed (another film reference!) as we dig deeper into how ecoATM works, how much they pay, and how to use ecoATM, along with some pros and cons.
- What Is ecoATM?
How Does ecoATM Work?
What Devices Does ecoATM Accept?
How Do You Prepare Your Device for ecoATM?
What Does ecoATM Do With the Devices?
The Trouble With ecoATM
How Much Does ecoATM Pay?
ecoATM Pros & Cons
Founded in 2008, what originally began as a single prototype in Omaha, NE has since exploded into a sprawling network of stands nationwide. Today, ecoATM kiosks can be found at Walmarts, grocery stores, and shopping malls across the country.
These ubiquitous, vending machine-sized booths are an in-person alternative (albeit with fewer gifs, memes, and, oh, yeah, less cash) to consumer electronics buyback websites like GadgetGone.
With ecoATMs, cash-in-hand and convenience are the major draws, as is their aura of environmental responsibility. Simply pop in your old phone, wait for ecoATM’s program to assess your device, pocket your cash, and walk away feeling like you did something good for Mother Nature while benefiting yourself with a few dollars.
Sounds pretty great, right? In reality, of course, the process is a bit more complicated than that.
While ecoATM’s website touts the transaction as a simple, three-step process, the entire affair is actually quite a bit more involved.
|Once you get to a kiosk, you’ll be prompted to answer several questions about both you and your device including its model and condition.
|The ecoATM will then spit out a QR code sticker. Once you’ve affixed the code to your item, you can connect it to a power jack and insert it into the kiosk for processing.
|During that time, your device will be assessed both visually and electronically. Those results, along with your item’s expected value in secondary markets, will affect the cash offer you receive.
|You will then be asked to scan your driver’s license and fingerprints for ecoATM’s database and to validate authenticity.
|Smile for the camera! A webcam will stream video of you in realtime to a remote attendant at ecoATM’s headquarters in San Diego, CA where they will compare your face to the one on the given ID.
|Once your identity has been confirmed, you will receive your quote. At that time, you can choose to either accept the cash offer or refuse it. If you decline the ecoATM estimate, your phone will be returned to you.
This might seem like a lot, but the entire process is expected to take between 3-5 minutes when everything is said and done. That’s not a bad wait at all.
Where Can I Find an ecoATM?
Ready to google “ecoATM near me?” Luckily, you shouldn’t need to go too far to find your closest ecoATM since there are thousands of kiosks nationwide, searchable by city and zip code. In fact, there’s probably one just around the corner at your local grocery store or retail outlet (like Walmart).
Unlike some other buyback companies, ecoATM only takes cell phones, MP3 players, and tablets. So, if you were hoping to sell your old laptops or Apple Watches to ecoATM, you won’t get anything.
And what about:
|Broken phones? – Yes! ecoATM will buy your device whether it’s cracked, water damaged, or just plain broken. Just don’t expect a major amount of money.
|Locked phones? – That depends on what you mean by “locked.” If your device is locked to a specific carrier, then yes, ecoATM will happily take it. Just be sure to say that your phone isn’t in working condition when you take it to the kiosk. However, if you are referring to an iCloud or activation-locked device, that is a big no go as it can indicate that the device might have been stolen. Find My must be turned off as well in order to sell your phone, or ecoATM won’t budge.
|Blacklisted phones? – Nope, again, these could be listed as lost or stolen! Well, hypothetically theoretically anyway. This isn’t always the case, but not likely to be taken in.
|Phones that haven’t been paid off yet? – No again, at least as far as we could tell from our research. But your payout could be less than what you’re still paying on the device.
ecoATM outlines just three simple steps to prep your device for selling (we’re sensing a pattern here).
|Back up any content you would like to access later to the cloud or another device.
|Ensure that you are free of any contractual obligations with your carrier.
|Factory reset your device.
While this is a great start, we would also recommend that you do the following things before resetting your device to help keep your information secure, get the most cash, and ensure a smooth assessment:
|Keep any accessories you would like – While you can certainly keep your screen protector and case on your device and include the charger that came with it, you don’t have to. Not only do these not add to your cash offer in any way, but they could also end up hindering the appraisal. Plus, if you put the items in the Accessory Bin and then end up changing your mind, you won’t be able to get them back.
|Take out the SIM and microSD cards – These items can contain sensitive information that could be used against you. Although ecoATM has security measures in place to help prevent this from happening, it is best to take extra precautions.
|Clean and fully charge your device – Manually cleaning your phone not only improves its appearance, but it can also help to increase your ecoATM estimate as dust, fingerprints, and other easily fixable issues could end up looking like cosmetic flaws. And while ecoATM does take devices that aren’t fully charged, charging your item before it is assessed will both quicken the process and ensure you get the most money possible.
|If you have an Apple device, don’t forget to sign out of your iCloud account – As we previously mentioned, ecoATM doesn’t accept iCloud or activation-locked devices. This is because these devices could be considered lost or stolen. Furthermore, an iCloud-locked phone won’t be able to be used normally by a new owner. Signing out of iCloud will also turn off Find My.
|To do this on a device running iOS 10.2 or earlier, go to:
|Settings > iCloud > Sign Out > Sign Out again > Delete from My iPhone > enter in your Apple ID password when prompted > Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings
|To do this on a device running iOS 10.3 or later, go to:
|Settings > Your Name > enter in your Apple ID password when prompted > Turn Off > Settings> General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings
(Make sure to check your sliders for Calendars, Contacts, Keychain, Safari and/or Stocks and switch them off before going to this setting, and don’t forget to sign out.)
With a name like ecoATM and words like “recycle”, “greener planet”, and “rewriting the rules of modern conservation” getting tossed around, it’s easy to think that ecoATM is only in it for planet-friendly benefits. However, as with most (if not all) consumer electronics buyback companies, the vast majority of the devices sold to ecoATM are resold as-is on the secondary market.
If a device is unable to be resold as a whole, its components can be reused for repairs. Some pieces that were constructed of precious, rare earth metals like gold, silver, and copper are also melted down and used again. Everything else is recycled responsibly.
Like we’ve already mentioned, ecoATM is no stranger to controversy, namely being seen as a way for criminals to make easy cash – even if devices could be considered stolen. With just a little bit of research, we uncovered the latest news stories about thieves selling stolen phones at their local kiosk as well as stomach-churning search suggestions like how to trick or hack ecoATM. Law enforcement officials and local politicians have even referred to these kiosks as magnets for thieves. Not quite a ringing endorsement.
As you’ll notice on their website, ecoATM goes to great lengths to keep their kiosks as secure and crime-free as possible. Unfortunately, even steps like biometric scans, facial recognition using realtime video, state-of-the-art ID verification, and device security checks aren’t always enough to keep the criminals at bay.
Is this reason enough to not use ecoATM? Not necessarily, but it certainly helps to keep it in mind.
As we’ve indicated, ecoATM prices leave a lot to be desired. While their website would have you believe that their prices are competitive with other buyback companies, this is just simply not usually the case. Let’s compare a few different devices in a couple of conditions to what GadgetGone has to offer:
|Samsung Galaxy S21 5GB 256GB (Verizon)
|Up to $170 – Powers on, screen fully lights up, no cracks
|Up to $115 – Powers on, screen fully lights up, cracked
|Up to $115 – Powers on, screen doesn’t fully light up, no cracks
|Up to $23 – Doesn’t power on, screen doesn’t fully light up, no cracks
|$351 – Good condition
|$291 – Fair condition
|$165 – Cracked condition
|$145 – Damaged condition
|$45 – No power condition
|iPhone 13 512GB (Verizon)
|Up to $420 – Powers on, screen fully lights up, no cracks
|Up to $300 – Powers on, screen fully lights up, cracked
|Up to $300 – Powers on, screen doesn’t fully light up, no cracks
|Up to $170 – Doesn’t power on, screen doesn’t fully light up, no cracks
|$630 – Good
|$545 – Fair
|$460 – Cracked
|$375 – Damaged
|$180 – No power
As you can see, ecoATM prices are nowhere near competitive, at least when it comes to GadgetGone. For anyone keeping track (and trust us, we are), you could be looking at a price increase of up to 55 percent selling your old device to GadgetGone instead of ecoATM, depending on your device and its condition.
Furthermore, while ecoATM only bases its online price estimates on three questions, GadgetGone has up to eight different condition categories. This results in more flexibility, and more money, when it comes to payouts.
ecoATM will also have you believe that their lower prices are worth it because you won’t have to wait up to 45 days to be paid. Although that may be true with some buyback companies, it isn’t with GadgetGone. With us, once we receive your device, you’ll get your cash in as little as two business days. (Sometimes this can vary with “busy seasons” revolving around holidays, but it’s pretty expedient for the most part.)
ecoATM also asserts that you will never get an offer that is “substantially less than was originally quoted and expected.” Entering in your device’s details into their online price estimator shows that this, once again, simply isn’t true, as each online quote is accompanied by a disclaimer noting that prices are “subject to condition review at kiosk.” The only difference is that the evaluation is done in-person at an ecoATM kiosk instead of mailing in your old phone to the devoted team at GadgetGone for assessment.
Unlike GadgetGone, ecoATM does have one good thing going for it when it comes to prices: occasional promotions. There are times when ecoATM can run a promotion for a ten percent increase in pay. Unfortunately, these are few and far between.
We’ve dug into the details, so let’s take a peek at how all the pros and cons stack up.
|Various locations that are likely only a short drive away
|The whole transaction only takes 3-5 minutes, and you’ll have your cash right then and there
|KKnow what your device might be worth by using their online price estimator ahead of time
|Can get your device back if you don’t like the offer you’re given
|Feel good about keeping your device out of a landfill
|Partner with law enforcement to ensure security
|Very low cash offers as compared to some online buyback companies
|The actual offer could be less than what you anticipated if you get an online quote beforehand
|Only accepts cell phones, tablets, and MP3 players, limiting certain device take-backs
|Kiosks have attracted thieves in the past — and continue to do so
|Need to be at least 18 years old to sell (mainly for security purposes, and to keep kids from selling Mom and Dad’s devices)
|Can’t get any accessories back if you accidentally include them with your device or if you change your mind
ecoATM admittedly has some positives, namely its convenience. But, while the list of upsides may be long, they aren’t enough for us to negate those very glaring negatives.
What About GadgetGone?
Not to toot our own horn, but let’s contrast that with GadgetGone. Just go to our website, answer a few questions about your device and its condition (5-8 condition categories depending on your item), and get your free, no-hassle quote, locked in for 14 days.
If you like what you see, swap your trip to the ecoATM in for a quick run to the post office to mail your device. And don’t worry – shipping is free. Receive a higher offer from one of our competitors? Just let us know and we’ll match it (and add on an extra $5 for your troubles) with our PriceMatch+ guarantee. Have any questions along the way? A Customer Relationship Specialist can be reached easily via text.
Once we receive your device, one of our Processing Technicians will inspect it within two business days for any functionality and cosmetic issues (in-house, by the way – no machines here doing the work for us – this isn’t Skynet). If necessary, we’ll adjust your offer accordingly. Get an updated quote that you’re not happy with? No worries. We’ll ship your item back to you free of charge. If you’re happy with the offer, you’ll get paid that same day.
We might be biased, but there seems to be a whole lot more to like with GadgetGone. Sure, the process takes a bit longer, but good things come to those who wait. And in this case, we’re talking substantially more money.
If you absolutely need cash that exact same day or would rather sell in person, ecoATM may be a good bet. However, if you’d rather get the most money possible out of your device and are ok with waiting a few days, GadgetGone is the way to go.
For our money (and yours), go with GadgetGone.
Our no-obligation quotes are simple, fast, hassle-free.