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Twin Cities startup Upsie enters crowded field for extended tech warranties

Upsie, a Twin Cities startup, allows recent buyers of consumer electronics to buy accidental-damage warranties right on their smartphones and typically at a lower cost than warranties offered at checkout in retail stores. (Photo courtesy Upsie)1 / 2
Upsie CEO Clarence Bethea created the service after finding it awkward and expensive to get accidental-damage coverage for his consumer electronics. His company enters a crowded field of ADC providers, but it aspires to sell the warranties at competitive prices. (Photo courtesy Upsie)2 / 2

ST. PAUL -- First comes the sickening crunch of a notebook, tablet or smartphone display, shattering as the device hits the floor. Then comes the second blow: The gadget is, all too often, not warrantied for accidental damage.

Though virtually all such devices have warranties that cover malfunctions, the coverage in many cases doesn’t extend to accidental drops, pop spills and the like — with the owners typically on the hook for the repair or replacement costs.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Consumers have an increasing number of options to get add-on warranties that cover accidental damage to computers, mobile devices, big-screen TVs, video-game consoles, auto speakers, even thermostats and landline telephones. These are easy to obtain, but typically at an added cost.

Upsie, a Minneapolis-based startup, has entered this space and is jostling for market share with rivals such as SquareTrade, electronics retailers, wireless carriers, computer makers and others — all pushing their own device-damage warranties.

Yet what the buyer doesn’t see is that competing policies often are underwritten by the same insurance carriers — so the crucial differentiator is price. Upsie, for instance, said it offers coverage similar or identical to that offered in retail outlets during the purchase of electronic devices, but typically at a far lower cost.

Though consumers have a number of warranty options, comparing them is hassle, said Jason Perlow, a senior technology editor at tech news site ZDNet who has studied the complex device accidental-damage coverage market.

“You have to go to every vendor and read the fine print” to see what’s covered, Perlow noted. “I’d love to see all these companies following some kind of universally accepted policy.”

‘Camera failure. Shoot!’

Consumers often feel blindsided when they are paying for a computer or other electronic device, and they’re pressured at the checkout counter to purchase an extended warranty, said Upsie CEO Clarence Bethea.

Such consumers would rather go home, carefully weigh accidental-coverage options and purchase plans when they feel ready, Bethea said. That’s the kind of service Upsie and its rivals, like SquareTrade, provide.

Upsie, which debuted late last year, allows its customers to buy in via its apps for Apple iOS and Google Android smartphones. Upsie said it has seen upwards of 80,000 app downloads so far, though it won’t disclose how many warranties it has sold.

Users typically choose a device category, identify the manufacturer and specify whether they bought the device recently or months ago. Upsie then quotes a warranty price and details what kinds of damage or malfunction scenarios are covered.

Items on these listings have funny descriptors — like “Won’t power on. Dead to me,” and “Camera failure. Shoot!” for smartphone policies.

The app includes a scanner that will identify an electronic device by its barcode and cough up corresponding warranty options. Users are also prompted to take photographs of their receipts.

Depending on the type of gadget, Upsie users have between 60 days and 9 months to get the product covered.

Two-year accident coverage for an iPhone, for instance, varies depending on when it was purchased — $49.99 with a $25 deductible for an iPhone bought in the past 30 days, and $49.99 with a $50 deductible for one bought within the preceding 31 days to

nine months.

With such a policy, a customer can get the gizmo fixed at a certified local shop and then get reimbursed by Upsie.

Smartphones are Upsie’s most popular category, but it insures everything from kitchen appliances and grills to lawn mowers and power tools. It intends to add more categories, such as jewelry and furniture, in the coming months.

Bethea said he was inspired to begin building Upsie more than three years ago when his laptop broke and he frantically, unsuccessfully, tried to find his warranty.

“A few days later I got a notification that said my warranty was done but that I could get another one for a crazy amount of money,” Bethea recalled. “It would have been nice to be told my warranty was coming due.

“That sparked the idea” for Upsie, he said.

Upsie does alert its customers when warranties they have purchased are on the verge of expiring. They also know who is underwriting the policies — Upsie works with Texas-based New Leaf Service Contracts.

“You want to deal with a company that’s transparent and gives you the best option at the best price,” Bethea said.

Policies galore

ZDNet’s Perlow said he likes SquareTrade, which is one of Upsie’s primary competitors and offers quotes on its website home page.

Certain retailers also have standout accidental-coverage providers, he added.

The Costco wholesaler is one of Perlow’s favorites for those purchasing Windows PCs. This chain has a limited PC selection, he noted, but accidental-coverage warranties are priced competitively.

Warranty purchasers do not necessarily have to be Costco members, either, but can buy their PCs via gift certificates, he noted. However, repeat PC buyers should probably go for the memberships, he added.

Perlow also suggests consumers check out hardware available directly from Microsoft — either online or via a brick-and-mortar outlet, such as the company’s store at Mall of America.

Microsoft has separate plans for its own Surface PCs and for the third-party computers it sells, but both kinds of warranties are pretty good, Perlow said.

Perlow adds his usual caveat when talking about this: His other job is at Microsoft, though not in retail operations.

Other Twin Cities-area retailers that offer accidental-damage coverage at an added cost include Best Buy and Micro Center, which has a St. Louis Park location.

Computer manufacturers are another source of accidental-damage protection, Perlow noted, though not every maker offers this. Lenovo and Dell have perhaps the best such warranties, “but they can get expensive,” he said. HP also offers such plans.

Apple is notable for offering no such protection with its MacBook-branded notebooks, but it does offer a limited degree of coverage with its smartphones. Google, which sells high-end Chrome Pixel notebooks, is another no-show.

Smartphone buyers can often get accidental-damage protection directly from carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon, Perlow said.

But vast numbers of smartphone users will never need accidental-damage protection if they take common-sense precautions, notably buying a protective case for their iPhone, Nexus or Galaxy device, Perlow added.

“If you are not using a case, you are being really stupid,” he said.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service.

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