Used handset pros create fresh market
At the T Eco-Phone Handset Management Center, located on the eighth floor of the SK Building in Tanbang-dong, Seo-gu in Daejeon, this group of 19 experts are scrutinizing used handsets, eyes stuck in microscopes.
The center opened last July after SK Telecom, Korea’s No. 1 mobile carrier, started secondhand mobile phone sales on its online marketplace, tsmartshop.co.kr.
In the six months since, SK has created a new market for second-hand phones that consumers can trust.
But the company knew it needed professional appraisers whose judgement could be trusted by both the seller of the phone and the buyer. Daejeon, some 164 kilometers (102 miles) south of Seoul, was chosen for its central location for hauling in the used phones and sending them out again.
The 19 appraisers were chosen after four rounds of interviews. Although 15 of them were true professionals, having worked at after-sales service centers of cell-phone manufacturers, SK took a risk on the rest.
Jang Dong-won, for instance, used to work as a personal trainer. He won the confidence of interviewers by showing calligraphy that read, “The company that puts customer satisfaction and trust first and foremost.”
“I wrote it myself to show that I am a poised person,” the 34-year-old with the muscular body recollected with a smile.
Chow Won-cheol, another appraiser, used to dream of becoming a professional football player but had to give up after to serious injury. The 25-year-old told his interviewers, “People who went through tough athletic training can handle almost anything.”
Lee Jang-woo, who worked at a Motorola after-sales service center, sketched the architecture of a handset during his interview, telling his inquisitors, “There is no one who knows the inside of a mobile phone like myself.”
After the 19 were accepted, they went through a month-long training in cell-phone appraisal that taught them the A to Z of a handset.
Today, they test about 20 functions of a secondhand cell-phone before rating it as N (for new), A, B, or C.
One Galaxy S smartphone that was sent from Busan on the day of a reporter’s visit was rated B with a note that read, “There are marks on the sides and a lot of dust in the screen.” It received a suggested price tag of 135,000 won ($117.99).
It takes 20-30 minutes to appraise a phone. Each appraiser works on more than 30 and 40 handsets a day. From 700 a day at the end of last year, the center is now processing between 1,000 and 1,200 a day.
But sales are booming and the appraisers are overloaded.
“With the increased work load, we hardly have to time to go out for a drink,” said Lim Jae-man, the center’s head. “We plan to double the workforce by the end of this year.”
The appraisers notify the sellers of the phones by calling them. If the seller accepts the suggested price, they put them up for sale online at the T EcoPhone category of the T Smart Shop. According to Lim, “Sellers who do not accept the results are less than one percent.”
When the service first started in July, 150 units were sold in the first month. That rose to 1,500 in October and 14,000 in December.
“As people start trusting the quality and price of secondhand mobile phones, the demand is increasing,” said Sohn Hong-hyeon, director of SK Telecom’s sales innovation division. “In particular, thrifty consumers who wish to use smartphones at cheaper prices are still buying megahit models like the iPhone 3GS and Galaxy S.”
SK Telecom says iPhone 3GS and Galaxy S models sell within ten minutes of being offered online. The average price of a smartphone sold is 140,000 won ($123), around 15 percent of a new model.
Koreans change their mobile phones every 26.9 months, according to data by the ministry of environment. That is shorter than Japan’s 46.3 months and India’s 93.6 months. Market analysts say the recent popularity of smartphones has shortened that interval.
“Should the secondhand mobile phone market become more popular, it is a win for us because we can attract subscribers without having to spend on marketing,” said Sohn. “And it’s a win for the country because it saves resources.”
By Park Tae-hee, Kim Hyung-eun [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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