Many are calling the cryptocurrency market a “crypto winter,” with coin values plummeting across the board and major exchanges like Celsius freezing user accounts due to “extreme market conditions.” Despite all of the bad news, one aspect of the cryptocurrency system is improving, and that is the number of ways that users can spend their coins across retailers. Because of the surge in public interest expected in 2020 and 2021, more major companies than ever before are now accepting currencies such as bitcoin and ether, either directly or through partner payment platforms.
Early adopters of blockchain-based payments were primarily in the technology and media sectors, but it is now possible to pay for groceries, furniture, and even movie tickets without ever using cash. Although Bitcoin remains the most widely accepted cryptocurrency for payment, many retailers now accept alternative cryptocurrencies ranging from litecoin to shiba inu. Despite the fact that current crypto payment systems are far from perfect, giving up fiat currency is now easier than ever.
Despite the fact that its parent company, Amazon, has yet to fully embrace cryptocurrency, supermarket chain Whole Foods has been accepting digital currency payments since 2019. Customers can pay for their Whole Foods purchases using Spedn, a Flexa-powered app that accepts bitcoin, bitcoin cash, and ether. Other major retailers with which the network has similar partnerships include Nordstrom, GameStop, and Jamba Juice.
Whole Foods does not accept payment directly through the Flexa network; instead, the Spedn app generates a QR code that can be scanned at checkout. Flexa can pay Whole Foods in dollars while charging customers in cryptocurrency thanks to this code, which protects the retailer from common blockchain issues like varying transaction times and fees. FlexaCoin, a separate coin that acts as an intermediary token between dollars and bitcoin payments, facilitates the entire system. Payment platforms like these are critical for the widespread adoption of cryptocurrency because they allow retailers to gauge demand for blockchain-based payments without incurring the cost and hassle of establishing the necessary infrastructure.
BitPay is another popular payment platform that has partnered with a number of major companies, including AMC Theatres. AMC is America’s largest theater chain, with over 200 million customers each year. Since March 2022, the company has accepted payments in a variety of cryptocurrencies on its website, including bitcoin, ether, bitcoin cash, litecoin, shiba inu, and dogecoin. In early 2022, AMC will also launch the feature on its mobile app.
AMC has always been a forward-thinking company. According to its website, it was the first multiplex cinema in America and one of the first to offer online ticketing. As a result, it’s not surprising that the company is the first major chain to jump on the cryptocurrency bandwagon. If nothing else, AMC is in desperate need of new revenue streams after a poorly timed acquisition spree and the Covid-19 pandemic left it on the verge of bankruptcy in 2021. Hopefully, the company’s adoption of this new technology will pay dividends in the near future.
Twitch, another Amazon-owned company, has expressed interest in embracing cryptocurrency. It first allowed users to pay for subscriptions and services with cryptocurrency in 2014, but it has since removed support for blockchain-based payments twice. The first removal was due to one of Twitch’s payment partners discontinuing support for bitcoin, but the streaming giant quickly partnered with Coinbase to reinstate BTC payments. Twitch then quietly removed the ability to pay with cryptocurrency again at the start of 2019, before changing its mind a second time and bringing it back in June.
Twitch appears to have become more bullish on the technology’s long-term prospects since then, even offering users a 10% discount in 2020 if they paid with cryptocurrency. BitPay, the company’s current crypto payment processor, is emerging as a market leader for mainstream retailers looking to enter the crypto world.
Starbucks customers in the United States will be able to pay for their coffee using cryptocurrency beginning in March 2021, thanks to the company’s partnership with fintech startup Bakkt. Bakkt was founded in 2018 with a novel premise: aggregate digital assets such as loyalty points, frequent flyer miles, and cryptocurrencies, then make them simple to convert into dollars to spend at retailers. Users with Bakkt accounts can connect their crypto wallets to the Starbucks app, then set the default payment currency to BTC and top up their Starbucks card directly from their wallet.
It’s worth noting that the only way to pay with bitcoin is with a Starbucks card, and there’s currently no way to pay with a wallet in-store. However, other Bakkt partners, such as GolfNow, have integrated payment options at checkout, so it’s possible that if the initial crypto scheme proves popular enough, Starbucks will make direct payments available in-store in the near future.
Pacsun became the first major fashion retailer to accept cryptocurrency in October 2021, thanks to a partnership with BitPay. The company stated in its press release announcing the move that it was doing so for two reasons. First, the company emphasized its youth-oriented credentials, claiming that digital payments will “resonate with [Gen Z] on a more personal level,” and second, it claimed that cryptocurrency simplified the checkout process. While the first point is only really relevant to the brand, its belief that crypto makes checkout inherently easier could resonate with a much broader range of retailers.
Brie Olson, President of Pacsun, seemed to agree, stating that she believed many other fashion companies would follow suit in the near future by offering integrated crypto payments. So far, that prediction does not appear to have come true, but perhaps the recent market turmoil has caused other companies to postpone their expansion plans until the market becomes less volatile.
PayPal’s payment processing platform launched a new feature called Checkout With Crypto in March 2021, and the name is pretty self-explanatory. PayPal users can use digital currency to pay at any of the platform’s 29 million merchants. PayPal, like other payment processors, sends dollars or other fiat currency to the vendor before deducting an equivalent amount of cryptocurrency directly from a user’s wallet. The exact amount of, say, bitcoin, is displayed before the user completes the transaction, so buyers can ensure they’re getting a good conversion rate.
PayPal also allows users to hold cryptocurrency alongside USD and other fiat currencies directly through its app. In that regard, it is the closest thing to a traditional bank account that accepts both fiat and cryptocurrency that is currently available on the market. At the moment, the only markets where PayPal offers integrated crypto support are the United States and the United Kingdom, but the company has stated that it plans to launch the feature in select other markets in the future.
Overstock, an online furniture and gadget retailer, became the first major online retailer to accept bitcoin payments in 2014, thanks to a partnership with Coinbase. Over time, the company’s scope has gradually expanded to accept almost all major altcoins. Overstock allows users to pay for their initial order with cryptocurrency, and refunds can also be paid out in BTC and refunded directly to a customer’s wallet, though the value of the refund is determined in USD rather than the original amount of BTC paid.
Since adopting blockchain technology, the company and its executives have been vocal about its potential, investing tens of millions of dollars in firms working in the space. According to Investopedia, Overstock also launched its own token, tZERO, in 2017, though a lack of interest in the initial coin offering (ICO) contributed to the company’s stock falling by 88 percent the following year. Despite a disastrous token launch, Overstock’s support for cryptocurrency remains unwavering, and if new blockchain developments emerge in the future, the company is likely to be among the first to integrate them.
Microsoft, another early adopter of crypto technology, has accepted bitcoin as a form of payment through its online store since 2014. It, like many others, accepts payments through BitPay. According to Cointelegraph, Microsoft’s bitcoin payment system has been shut down several times since its debut, primarily due to market volatility. Nonetheless, the company has recently taken steps to improve its Web 3.0 presence, hiring a “Director of Business Development for Cryptocurrencies” in February 2022.
In addition, the company was granted a patent in 2021 for a ledger-independent system for developing and managing tokens across different networks, indicating that it intends to expand its influence in the crypto space in the near future. Despite Microsoft’s continued involvement in the sector, the company’s founder, Bill Gates, has publicly condemned cryptocurrency, infamously stating in a June 2022 interview that the entire market is “100% based on greater fool theory.”
Quiznos partnered with payment platform Bakkt in 2021 to offer bitcoin payments for the first time. Users can download the Bakkt app and pay with their phone at select locations, primarily in and around Denver, Colorado, for the time being, but with plans to expand if the pilot is successful. The company also launched an introductory offer for first-time cryptocurrency users, offering $15 in free bitcoin to anyone who downloaded the Bakkt app, purchased bitcoin, and paid for a meal with it.
The company has also been quick to embrace other forms of blockchain technology, launching a collection of so-called “sandwich coins” as NFTs in November 2021 in collaboration with digital artist Sameer Baloch. Each drop was available for purchase for one day only, with all proceeds benefiting World Central Kitchen, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing food to communities in need. The collection also included the chance for two NFT holders to win $1,000 USD in dogecoin and 33 holders to win varying amounts of Quiznos gift cards.
Although not every company accepts cryptocurrency payments yet, there is one surefire way to spend tokens at almost every major US retailer: a gift card. Gyft, based in California, has been accepting bitcoin payments for gift cards since 2013, and has cards available from over 200 retailers. These include some of America’s biggest brands, with cards from Target, Uber, Walmart, Delta, and eBay all available for purchase. Most cards can hold up to $500 in value and can be purchased quickly and easily, with payment taken directly from a user’s cryptocurrency wallet.
Although it may not be as convenient as simply walking into a store and paying with a debit card, Gyft is a great alternative solution for buyers looking to make larger one-time crypto purchases or smaller transactions at a store they frequent. However, some of the retailers listed on Gyft, such as Starbucks and Whole Foods, already accept cryptocurrency payments through their own online platforms.
What problems are there with cryptocurrency payments?
Although paying with cryptocurrency is now easier than ever, buyers should be aware of a few tax implications before linking their wallets and starting shopping. The main issue is that the IRS considers paying for real-world goods with crypto coins to be the same as selling an investment. So, if the value of that coin has increased between the time the buyer purchased it and the time they spent it, they may be subject to capital gains tax. Similarly, if it has decreased, it may be considered a tax write-off. Because bitcoin and its competitors are so volatile, every store transaction made with cryptocurrency may have to be reported on a tax return.
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This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, because platforms like PayPal track taxable transactions and include the necessary tax forms for buyers at the end of the year. However, not every payment processor is as accommodating, so buyers using cryptocurrency across multiple platforms may find themselves having to calculate gains and losses on each individual transaction when it comes time to file their taxes. Regulators and exchanges, hopefully, will find a way around this in the near future. However, for the time being, it is a significant limitation of the current system, and it negates much of the convenience that paying with cryptocurrency can provide.