Cell phones are one of the more popular items being sold on eBay right now. Anyone who has lost or damaged a cell phone and gone into their local retailer can tell you why. If you are not going to sign a new 2-year contract, a new cell phone can cost from $150-$400. EBay offers prices many times under half of what the big companies offer. Used cell phones can often be a cheap way to replace your phone until your contract expires.
For first-time buyers, this can be a confusing process, as there are many different styles, features, and types of cell phones - not to mention carriers. This guide will hopefully help the new user to know how to approach the market and get the best cell phone for them at the best price.
Know your carrier
Many carriers have both local and national requirements regarding which cell phones they will activate. Some require the phone to be GSM or CDMA, while others will only activate phones specifically made for their company or already have the electronic serial number (ESN) in their system.
Before buying a cell phone you need to know what will work for your carrier. Call the local or national office and ask them what works for them. If you've already decided on a model you haven't owned before, ask specifically about that phone.
If the ad says Unlocked, make sure it’s the right band for you - which one does your carrier use? CDMA, TDMA, GSM, GAIT, or PCS? Remember, too, that a GSM phone requires a SIM card and that may not be provided. If you are currently using a SIM card in your phone, you can should be able to use any phone that says GSM Unlocked, or GSM and your carrier name. You won’t need to buy another card.
With some carriers (Verizon, US Cellular, Sprint, to name a few), you may want to call in the ESN number for the phone and make sure there is no bill attached to it. Sellers often lack the time to do this themselves and will not refund on a phone that cannot be activated for this reason. This is one of the top reasons for bad transactions on eBay. Try looking in the ad for the ESN first. If you don't see it, ask the seller. If you cannot get an ESN from a seller before buying a phone, I highly advise looking elsewhere.
If you are a US Cellular customer looking for a used phone, be sure to ask if the phone you are looking at has been activated on US Cellular service before. They are very proprietary and require the phone’s ESN to have been entered into their system before they will activate.
If you are a Cingular or AT&T customer, note that the two carriers are not automatically interchangeable. Both run primarily on GSM networks (Meaning they require SIM cards) and phones may be locked to accept either one SIM card or the other. If buying a phone that names the other carrier in the ad, make very sure it also says unlocked. Unlocked phones are those that are not carrier specific.
If you are a Verizon customer, you should be aware of the recent changes in their policies. Essentially they now tie cell phone ESN to the past user’s account if they leave an unpaid bill, meaning you cannot activate the phone if money was owed on the former account. Your best bet is to call in the ESN before buying.
They also now require all phones be E911 compatible. Thus, a phone must be GPS enabled. There is more to this, however if you are in doubt as to what will work for you, call your provider for details.
People buy different cell phones for many different reasons. Some like the "flip phone" style, while others need something to pick up their email with. Do you want to do text messaging, browse the internet, use it as a speakerphone, take pictures? Is a color screen important, or will you use it for business as well? Perhaps you just want to throw it in your purse for emergency use. Many ads on eBay list the phones features, however, some don't.
If you need to know what a phone can do, try looking at others ads or doing an internet search. You can start with www.phonescoop. com. They have many phone features plus buyer reviews.
Reviews are also important. They can often tell you if a particular phone has a common problem and if it is covered under the manufacturer’s warrantee. They can also tell you what users did or didn't like about the phone they purchased, whether or not the battery life lives up to the manufacturer’s specs or not, etc. They may also mention how to fix a simple problem which can be very important if you are handy and looking for a real deal.
Remember that dissatisfied customers are always the most vocal, however, and that a phone with a bad review on one site may have raving reviews on another. Check a couple of different sites before deciding.
In our experience, ninety percent of all problems occur due to a customer not reading the ad. When looking to purchase a cell phone do not skim over the ad. Read what the seller is telling you about the phone. Many sellers now have condition ratings they base their descriptions on. Four or five stars, Like New or Excellent, etc. When a seller says a phone is in GREAT condition, look for a chart somewhere to tell you what that means. If you don’t see one, you might ask the seller before buying if condition is important to you.
Be sure to read carefully when a seller calls a phone new. Some sellers put "New" in the headers of their ads and as you read the ad more closely you find the phone is actually "Like New" or has been refurbished. Always remember like new is still used.
Also note that refurbished can be as little as slapping a new faceplate on the phone or as much as a complete rebuild. If you are going with a refurbished phone, one that is factory refurbished is always best.
Not all phones come with full accessories, either. If a phone is listed as boxed, make sure all the items you wanted are there. On a model you don’t have, be sure you will be getting a charger and a battery. Many manuals can be found online - try going to the manufacturer’s website and browsing (www.kyocera.com, www.motorola.com, www.lge.com, etc.). Accessories can be found on eBay really cheaply, but do be sure to watch the shipping - you can pick up a battery for .01, with shipping of $4.95 to $15.95. Even though that adds to the cost, it’s still cheaper than going to your local dealer and paying $40-$50 for a new battery.
Also, be sure to look for call times in a seller’s ads. The lifetime timer is like an odometer in a car. Many sellers do not have the time to list every phone's call time individually, however, most will check it out for you before you buy. Remember, this is the best gauge of how used a phone really is. Sellers can put on a new faceplate and make the outside of a phone look new, but in most cases they cannot reset the lifetime timer.
Look for the seller's return policy. Every seller wants every sale to go well, but the fact is that somewhere between five and ten percent of all used cell phones have an issue the seller couldn't detect. If a seller is selling a phone "AS-IS" know that they will more than likely not refund your money for any reason. In other words, you are gambling that the phone will arrive as stated in the ad and will work. If it doesn't, you will lose, so remember that when considering the price you are paying. There may be one out there with a warrantee for the same price.
Need a Phone Fast?
If you absolutely need a phone as soon as possible, buying a used cell phone may not be for you. Older cell phones sometimes need software upgrades that your provider may or may not be able to do. Remember, too, that somewhere between five- and ten-percent of used cell phones have issues that either arose during shipping or that the seller couldn't detect. And while sellers are usually willing to work with a customer to resolve a problem, there is still the time and money it takes to ship the phone back and wait for an exchange or refund.
It also takes time to ship after you buy, so it may be a week or so before you receive the phone even if you are having it overnighted. Different sellers handle shipping in different ways. Some ship the next day while others may wait a week after you pay. The best way to determine this is by checking their shipping policies listed in the ad, and by checking their feedback. Buyers will complain if it takes two weeks for something to get to them that should have been there in two days. If you see that buyers mention fast shipping consistently in the sellers feedback, it's a pretty safe bet they ship in a reasonable amount of time.
I hope this has been some help to someone out there looking to buy a cell phone on eBay. This is a great place for finding a bargain on a used cell phone if that's what you need.
Just remember to never be afraid to ask the seller questions, always read the ads carefully and to always check the seller’s feedback. These are some of the most important things you can do to ensure a pleasant transaction.