Monday, January 7, 2013

An Encounter With an ecoATM: It's Not Easy Being Green

I was fascinated when I read about the ecoATM several months ago. Brilliant idea --  recycling cell phones which are past their prime. But drat! the nearest ecoATM was over 2000 miles away in San Diego. What's not to like, clean out a junk drawer, hug the planet, walk away with some cash.  I loved the concept and when another news story ran on Saturday morning I checked again and found there was an ecoATM kiosk at the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington.. The exact place I had promised to take  my teenage daughter and friends... but first I headed to the junk drawer and found 7 dead cell phones.
 
The ecoATM  greeted me with a cute little animated robot and  a promise of "instant" cash. Not so fast!

As someone who spends my life trying to provide lawyers with "one click" solutions, I was shocked at how very "click filled" the experience was. I knew this wouldn't be as easy as pulling cash from a bank ATM, but this was like a Rube Goldberg version of Redbox. In addition to an abundance of clicking there are other unexpected elements as well. You have to scan a driver's license, you have to provide a thumb print, you have to remove your glasses while an electric eye validates that you are the person on the drivers license. After an initial scan of the cell phone the machine delivers a QR Code label for you to paste on the phone. Then you are directed where to dispose of the label backing so you don't litter. After identifying the model of the device, the machine delivers up the right jack wire, it swallows up the cell phone and the robot dances across the screen while the machine does more testing. And then about 20 minutes and a dozen clicks into the process you are told what your device is worth.... drum roll please... in my case $1!
 
So my first trial of the ecoATM cost me about 30 minutes of time and paid me an ROI of about 2 cents a minute.

In truth unless you have a recent model of an IPhone or Android - this is not about making money... you are just being green. And if you are thinking of hauling in a vintage 90s mobile phone with a carrying case, forget it, it won't fit in the slot.
 
 You do have an option at the end of the process to donate the money to a charity, but if you have really old cell phones, is it really worth the time investment even to make a donation?
   
 Note to ecoATM  Please just add a donation slot for the seriously time deprived and impatient souls like myself. I had 6 more cell phones in my bag, but I didn't want to invest the approximately 3 hours it would take to "process" them at the kiosk. Plus by the time I finished the first one, a line had formed behind me. I would have been happy to toss the remaining six in a donations bin.
 
See a  Video Demo Below:
 
Disclosure: screen above is not showing the first step in the process. You are many clicks in by the time you are attaching the wire. But it gives you an idea of how the machine works.

29 comments:

  1. I'll opt to use Cell Phones for Soldiers (http://www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com). No economic benefit for me, but it's recycling AND it yields phone air time to deployed U.S. soldiers.

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  2. So you are really donating your time and private information. Ugh. I just give my old phones to a local womens' shelter. They enable them for 911 only and redistribute to the women.

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  3. Thanks for the post Jean. My name is Ryan and I work for ecoATM. Sorry it took you nearly a half hour to get through the process. The average time for a new user to complete a transaction on the ecoATM is somewhere between 4 and 5 minutes, so I'm not sure why it took so long for you.

    There are four main steps we take users through: 1) ID verification (prevents people from selling stolen phones and helps deter crime in your community) 2) Device identification (so we know what kind of phone you have and what physical condition its in) 3) Electronics check (we give you a cable so we can see if it powers up and if the screen works) and 4) Checkout and payment (the machine gives you cash.)

    It's true some phones do not have much value in a secondary market. There's a bin on the side of the ecoATM that you're welcome to drop these phones in if you'd just like to get them recycled and aren't concerned about the cash...but some people really are, so we want to make sure we take care of them too.

    Hopefully your transaction will go quicker next time. Thanks for trying the ecoATM and thanks for recycling!

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    1. Thanks for the response Ryan. I think it would help if could direct people to the "donate only area" on the front screen and on your website. If is is there, I apologize because I didn't notice it. Don't get me wrong - I still love the idea. And people kept walking up to me asking what I was doing - so this probably slowed me down since I was unfamiliar with the process. I am sure it goes more quickly on the second try.

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    2. Hi, Ryan --
      Jean's experience with the time that it took to process her transaction was not my issue. My issue was the insultingly small amount of money ecoATM offered for some relatively newer(<18 month old) devices that I paid $300-$400 for when I purchased them. I was only offered $71 for my Motorola Razr Maxx I purchased a year ago. And I won't even conjur up the memory of what I was offered for my in-very good condition Samsung Fascinate (I'm talking single-digit dollars here, my friends). But I'm not mad about any of that. I understand ecoATM wants to preserve, conserve and green-ify. I get that. No problem. And I understand that ecoATM isn't in the business of making millionaires via used cell phones. No sweat. But, aside from Jean's "donate only area," wouldn't it be a good idea to add a "Kelley Blue Book" style estimator on your website so that people can get an estimate/idea of what ecoATM will pay for their phone and so that folks like myself won't WASTE gas, time and energy driving (in my case) 25 miles to find the one of 3 ecoATMs in a 100-mile radius? Simply ask prospective customers the make and model of their phones and give the various estimates for that model based upon the condition of the phone. What do you think?

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    3. Ryan. Is this ID verification still in place? My nephew has been beaten up twice, and he's only a freshman in high school. He doesn't want to press charges due to retaliation. I was hoping to ban these ecoATMs, but perhaps, once again, I'm assuming the worst. Thoughts? Suggestions?

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    4. I used the Ecoatm it took the phone and didn't pay me anything, I was directed to file a claim for the 95 dollars it said my phone was valued at, when I called about a week later to check the status of the claim I was told a check for 90 dollars had been mailed , so not only am I waiting over a week for a check but its short 5 dollars of the price I was told at the machine and at this point I really doubt I will even get a check , so they just basically took my phone.

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  4. Are these machines for sale?

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  5. I tried using the eco atm and every time I go it never have any money

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  6. The donation bin is the giant hole on the side of the machines.

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  7. Don't waste your time. After all the button pushing, it tells me my license/ID is expired. No it is not...it has five years remaining. Total waste. And wanted to give me a whopping $4. for a working Samsung phone. There are plenty of places to donate your phone and not waste time using this NoNoATM.

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  8. I just tried using the Eco ATM in Culver City and it didn't work. It told me in the final stages that it wasn't the same phone I started with. What the heck? It even gives you a sticker to put on it to identify it-and it didn't recognize its own sticker? Wht a waste of time. I watched the 2 people behind have the same issue.

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  9. There Is One At The Mall Across The Street From Me.
    I Used It To Sell My Samsung Galaxy S2 And Got 89.00 (I Paid 3x That But Its For Charity;I Hope)
    I Tried To Use One Today (8-6-13) And The Machine Was Blank. It Was Plugged In And Seemed Undamaged Physically But It Looked Off.
    I Could Just Give It Away Free But I See It As Payment For Our Time And Travel.
    I Dont Want To Travel 8miles To Sell My MyTouch 4G When The EcoATM Across The Street Should Be Working.
    I Watched 11 People Walk Up To It And Leave Frustrated.
    Please Fix This.
    "Ingram Park Mall Shopper"

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    1. then go to rolling oaks mall theres 2 there!

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  10. I am from Boston and these phone machines are new to the area. I certainly hope I have a better experience. Ill keepo you posted

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  11. There is a number right on the front of the ATM should there be any issue... Not letting you click, or being blank.
    You call and give them the location I.e. city, zip...
    And the use remote access to fix it right in front of your eyes.
    Dang nay sayers. Stop complaining.
    It's like we all forgot how to use problem solving skills.

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  12. I had a problem with it saying I didn't match my ID. Sure, the picture was taken 6 years ago but I promise it was me! It was a total pain. Also, it said it could offer me money for an mp3 player I have then it said it couldn't take the device because it didn't have a power cord for it. Why recognize the device and say how much it is worth and then not be able to "purchase" it? I spent 30 minutes at the kiosk for 2 devices. One of which is in excellent condition but because of it's age (3 years old) I was only offered $1.00. What an insult! I figured a dollar is better than nothing and tried to go through with the transaction when the machine told me I wasn't the person on my ID.

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  13. I wouldn't label this a scam if the intent is to be eco-friendly, however it is certainly misleading. Before trying this looked up a relatively new phone I never liked on e-bay an saw it still selling $40 new and fractions of that (down to $10) used. I decided if I got even $5 back it would be worth my trouble. So felt insulted when the machine didn't offer anything at all in return and walked away angry, determined NOT to recycle through ecoATM.

    Why not allow a person to value their phone online before making the trip?

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  14. Ive never had a problem with an ecoatm,as a matter of fact i use the one in my town regularly and it always pays out more than what i expected. i took two refurbished BB Z10s in last month and it payed me $160 (80ea)...i didnt pay anything for the phones. I think alot of you feel its not worth it because you dont have a clear understanding of market values. Yeah you may have payed 200 or more for your phone a year ago but that doesnt mean that its still worth 200,every few months or so the resale value of these devices drop. Example...lg sells a phone at thier warehouse for 200,they offer it to a 3rd party retailer like at&t for 300,they then turn around and charge you 400,when you take that device in to an ecoatm you should expect to lose a zero,unless like previously stated you have a much more current device. Electronics,have a different life scale than other things like...toasters,new phones come out every month that do new things so one will probably net more than the other,the toaster can only be remade so many times,but it will always simply be a toaster so their retail value will pretty much stay the same. You wont get more for a kenmore toaster vs. a kitchenware but you might get more for a working,good condition iPhone vs. a year old 200 motorola.

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  15. I can't recommend this company to anyone. I had one experience selling my wife's old iPhone 3G and the transaction went fine, albeit slow.
    However the next time I used them, I had a 120GB ipod.
    First of all the machine wouldn't work properly and I had to call the 800 number. The guy who answered the fone had to reboot the machine. This process took about half an hour and at the end he said "No problem, instead of "Sorry for the delay and incovenience" He also neglected to tell me that there was another ATM in the mall that I could have used.
    The ATM couldn't recognize the device with this amount of memory and instead offered me a price for an 80 GB model. Since I had invested over half an hour dealing with it I said ok and decided that I would try to correct the amount with customer service later.
    Big mistake!
    Sergio from ECO ATM tried to tell me that there shouldn't be any difference in price between an 80GB ipod and a 120GB ipod.
    Well there certainly was when I paid for it. At any rate, after wasting more time explaining this to Sergio he finally checked with someone else and they agreed with me and promised to send a check to cover the difference.
    My original transaction with ECO ATM was October 1st. My follow up emails indicated that they were going to create a problem ticket and fix the problem. Never heard back from them after the initial email reply, so that led to the call to Sergio. After finally convincing Sergio he said that they would send a check within 9 days, but I have received nothing.
    Lame (some might say non-existent) customer service.
    Take your business elsewhere!

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  16. Unfortunately, ecoATM gave us NO money. If you are expecting to get cash for your phones, don't. EcoATM is a waste of time. My husband and I had a ton of old phones...not a one was 'cash' worthy. Also, I do believe that the only phones that they accept are iphones. If you do not have an iphone 5 or higher, don't waste your time. There was a couple in front of us, and they got nothing, too! If you want to be a part of the recycle movement (which is WONDERFUL), let them have your phone; but if youv are looking for cash....FORGET IT!

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  17. this thing is a waste of time. i tried to sell my sony xperia ultra in perfect condition, i culda made more money on craigslist but i wanted to sell it quick. the machine scanned it five times, and didnt recognize it. whats not to recognize! wasted an hour travel time and 1/2 with the machine. the price list said i should be getting $72. got nothing!

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  18. I saw one at the Mall of Georgia when I was leaving from the movies. Someone was using it at the time but from there website. They give you a range and from the phones I check out, they give about 30% of what the phone is worth. It also don't care about the storage space.

    You are better off selling it off of craigslist or gazelle.com

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  19. Anyone who believes this company is about recycling is an idiot. This company is all about refurbishing and reselling used phones. It's why they pretty much only buy iPhones and Galaxies. Even the crappiest phones have $3-$4 of precious metals in them apparently giving a buck for that isn't the right profit margin. I don't have a problem with them being a for-profit company but stop misleading everyone into thinking you are doing it for the environment you're not you are doing it for profit

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  20. This machine offered me $110 for my iPhone 5. Perfect, I could no longer afford the service associated with it and cancelled months ago and was tired of seeing this thing lying on my countertop. Everything was smooth until it scanned my driver's license. It said my license was expired and quickly cut me off. My license is not expired. There is a 4 year extension sticker on the back (because of my good driving record). I emailed them asking for a solution and was told to go back to the kiosk and once there call their 800# and they will take a picture of my license through the machine. I was also given a "claim #" to refer to when calling. When I called some other jerk kept me on hold numerous times to state "we don't have the technology to take a picture of your license through the machine and we are trying to figure out where you got that information". There are two cameras on that machine so I figured the solution offered via email was legit. Forget this, my time is worth more than $110 and furthermore, I hate malls. Here's the real deal too.....there was a true thug pacing back and forth behind me through the entire encounter with this "ATM". I could see him in the reflection of the screen and finally turned around and gave him the stank eye to let him know I noticed him. He was pacing back and forth and licking his lip. DEFINITELY ready to attack should that thing have spit out some cash. Trust me.

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  21. As a follow-up to the above post on 9/25/14 - Gazelle just deposited $165 in my PayPal account today for that phone. They sent a postage paid box to my home and I just placed the phone in it, sealed it with the supplied label and dropped it in a mailbox. $55 more than this silly ecoATM from the comfort of your own home (and there was no thug pacing behind me at a machine either).

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  22. I sell my phones on ebay. 2 that I sold last month for $40 and $15 the kiosk would have given me $0-$11 and $1 dollar to my favorite charity. This isn't about being green it's about getting rich off of public stupidity!

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  23. Eco atm refused my services Im not sure why but I did sell alot of phones to the machine within a month and that's my only theory. Is there any reason for ecoatm to stop taking my devices? P.s it's not stolen

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