Published: Sunday, February 18, 2007
By EVE TAHMINCIOGLU
MANY of today’s teenagers are sitting on a growing pile of consumer electronics — items like MP3 players and laptops. And as they acquire the latest models, more of them are realizing that they can turn their older gadgets into cold hard cash.
Consider Greg Stoft, 18, who lives with his parents in Fremont, Calif. He wanted to buy a $45 skateboard, but he doesn’t work and his parents recently decided to tighten the purse strings, he said. To get the money, he decided to sell his used iPod Nano on Craigslist, the free online bulletin board.
The ad said: ”White ipod nano, 4GB, no bad scratches. I don’t need it anymore.” He posted it one evening early this month with a price of $90 and by the next morning he had sold it for $70. ”It was easy,” he said.
Not a bad return on investment, considering that the Nano was a gift from his parents, who were fine with him selling it, he said. And he is not worried about going without: his parents bought him a new video iPod this last Christmas for around $300.
”It’s the first time I ever sold anything like that, but lots of kids I know sell their iPods and stuff,” he said. ”I thought: Why shouldn’t I do it?”
Mr. Stoft is among a growing group of teenagers who are creating their own slice of capitalism, one sale at a time. Part of the reason is that households with teenagers typically have 35 consumer electronic products, on average, compared with 24 products at homes with no teenagers, said Joe Bates, director of research for the Consumer Electronics Association, based in Arlington, Va. In the 1980s, he said, the typical household had four or five such devices.
”We don’t have hard data on teens buying and selling these products, but it makes perfect sense,” Mr. Bates said. ”Teens just own more electronics today and because they do, they have technology that’s still working and they want to redistribute it. We see a shift in how people are using their tech. Teens like to get something newer before the old product is no longer unusable.”
And the demand is there, from lower-income youths without deep-pocketed parents, said Lance Ulanoff, a technology columnist and reviews editor at PC Magazine. It’s like a ”digital flea market for teens,” he said. ”It’s a tiered system of teens. There are those that can get the latest and greatest and those that can’t.” He added: ”It might be used, but if it still looks cool they’re willing to go with that.”
A review of listings on Web sites like Craigslist, eBay and MySpace, the social networking site, points to a secondary market of teenagers involved in tech gadget commerce. And sales are not limited to the Web. Many teenagers said they were also selling their old electronics to classmates, in the hallways of high schools and colleges.
Helping to spur the trend is a desire by some teenagers to own the hippest gadgets, as they come to see technology as an extension of themselves.
”It is part of this generation’s DNA,” said Gary Rudman, president of GTR Consulting, a youth-culture market research firm in San Francisco. ”This generation is forced to adapt, adopt and advance when it comes to technology. Basically what’s happening is, unlike previous generations that had the luxury of understanding a piece of technology and slowly adopting it, this generation is on a treadmill.”
Henrik Cotran, a 17-year-old high school student from Lexington, Mass., feels the pressure. ”People definitely notice if you have old stuff,” he said. ”People laugh at you if you have a first-generation iPod. They call it a Ghetto iPod.”
Recently, he found himself with an extra video iPod because his grandmother bought him one for his birthday. So he sold his old one to his best friend for $230, a discount from the $300 retail price at the time. ”My friend didn’t have one because he was reluctant to spend the money and he didn’t want to ask his parents,” he said.
Because this teenage-oriented flea market is fairly new, there are a few things that teenagers and their parents need to keep in mind.
If teenagers sell their MP3 players or computers with hundreds of songs they downloaded from the Internet, they may be treading on copyright laws, especially if they keep another copy.
There are also privacy issues when people sell a laptop or any computer that includes personal information. ”Whether it’s a cellphone or laptop, your personal information needs to be sanitized or destroyed before it’s passed on because it could potentially come back to harm you or someone you know,” said Robert Johnson, executive director of the National Association for Information Destruction in Phoenix.
Above all, the fact that teenagers may be interacting with strangers in these transactions could be dangerous, so parental supervision is important.
There are several ways that money can be exchanged. Teenagers can meet the buyers and get cash on delivery, or take a check. Sellers can also be paid electronically by using services like PayPal and then ship the item. But users of PayPal must be 18 or older, so parents must be willing to provide a credit card number in most cases.
Because some children will probably not want to pay for shipping, they may be inclined to meet up with strangers who offer them a good price online, Mr. Ulanoff of PC Magazine warned.
Greg Stoft, the 18-year-old who sold his iPod to buy a skateboard, met the buyer at a bakery. ”I wouldn’t recommend anyone under age 15 doing that, but I’m a big person,” he said. ”No one tries to mess with me.”
Mr. Ulanoff said parents should make sure that their teenagers are not including personal contact information along with their online ads.
A recent search of ads for consumer electronic products on Craigslist from an array of teenagers found a handful that listed their personal phone numbers; one young girl from Missouri included her photograph and her personal e-mail address along with her ad on MySpace.com selling her iPod Nano.
Brittany Rich, a 16-year-old high school student in Boca Raton, Fla., knew better than to put any of her personal information online when she put an ad on eBay last year to sell her broken laptop.
Brittany’s mother, Nancy Rich, said she was aware of her daughter’s intentions to sell the laptop and kept on top of the transaction through the whole process.
”Brittany took the laptop to FedEx Kinko’s to ship it after she sold it online — there was no way she was going to meet anyone,” Ms. Rich said. ”I’m involved in everything,” she added. ”I don’t mind being nosy. It’s our job as parents.”
Brittany got $380 for the laptop and was able to put that, as well as some of her savings, toward a new laptop that cost $1,000.
Her decision to go into cyberspace for the extra cash was simple, she added. ”My parents bought me my old laptop,” she said, ”but after I broke it they said, ‘You’re on your own.’ ”