Let’s start with this simple question: Where can you spend your Bitcoin? In other words, which merchants and services accept payment in Bitcoin?
The answer is—well, not that many. At least not yet. Because Bitcoin is not yet an established currency, at least in the eyes of the establishment, you’re not going to find a lot of big-time merchants accepting Bitcoin payments. That’s true both online and off; Bitcoin is just too niche or too risky or too whatever for the big guys to work with.
The same holds true for smaller merchants that, let’s face it, are traditionally a little behind the curve in adopting new technologies. Your corner nail salon thinks having a credit card terminal is cutting edge, so getting that merchant to dive head-first into virtual currency payments is expecting a bit too much. Smaller merchants haven’t even heard of Bitcoin, so they’re not going to be on the front lines of adoption.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t find anybody to take your Bitcoin, just that you have to be diligent in your search. The number of Bitcoin-savvy merchants and service providers is growing, with new players coming on board weekly. That includes some fairly big players as well as an increasing number of smaller ones, too. Let’s take a quick look at what you can expect to find when you go shopping with your Bitcoin wallet.
Online Merchants and Services
The online business community has been quicker to warm up to Bitcoin than having their bricks-and-mortar brethren. That’s especially true with merchants that specialize in computers, electronics, and other tech-related products. In fact, there are enough online merchants accepting Bitcoin that you’re likely to find at least one selling whatever it is you’re looking to buy.
Here’s a short list of some of the most popular online merchants and services accepting payment via Bitcoin:
- Alienware (www.alienware.com), PC manufacturer specializing in high-performance gaming systems
- Butterfly Labs (www.butterflylabs.com), the manufacturer of high-performance Bitcoin mining systems
- CheapAir.com (www.cheapair.com), a budget airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations
- City Wine Cellar (www.citywinecellar.com), online wine sales
- CoinMotors (www.coinmotors.com), used automobile trading
- CoinRX.com (www.coinrx.com), online pharmacy
- Cord Shoes and Boots (www.cordshoes.com), handmade boots and shoes
- Dell (www.dell.com), computers and accessories
- Expedia (www.expedia.com), online travel reservations—currently accepting Bitcoin for hotel reservations only
- Foodler (www.foodler.com), online-based restaurant delivery, operating in more than 3,500 U.S. cities
- Keystone Pet Place (www.keystonepetplace.com), pet food and supplies
- KnCMiner (www.kncminer.com), the manufacturer of high-performance Bitcoin mining systems
- Newegg (www.newegg.com), the online retailer of computer hardware, software, and other electronics-related items
- OkCupid (www.okcupid.com), online dating site
- Overstock.com (www.overstock.com), the online retailer of new and surplus merchandise in various categories, including clothing, bed and bath, health and beauty, jewelry, electronics, furniture, and more
Bitcoin as a payment option at Overstock.com.
- Something Geeky (www.somethinggeeky.com), geek-inspired T-shirts and merchandise
- SoundCloud (www.soundcloud.com), digital music from independent artists
- TigerDirect (www.tigerdirect.com), the online retailer of computers and other consumer electronics
- WordPress (www.wordpress.com), website creation and hosting
- Zynga (www.zynga.com), online gaming
This is only a sampling of the tens of thousands of websites that accept payment in Bitcoin; for every merchant listed here, there are dozens similar ready and waiting to accept your Bitcoin payments. To see a more complete list by category of Bitcoin-friendly merchants, go to the Bitcoin Directory on the BitPay website (www.bitpay.com/directory#/).
If you purchase (legitimate) downloadable software online, chances are that the software company utilizes the services of another company to handle the payment and digital downloads. For the majority of online software retailers, that company is Digital River.
Based just down the road from me in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Digital River handles transactions processing for more than 40,000 software publishers. In 2013, Digital River processed more than $30 billion in online transactions, which makes it one of the largest providers of such services to online retailers.
In June 2014, Digital River announced that it would start accepting Bitcoin payments for the merchants it services. That opens a ton of online merchants to Bitcoin transactions, so if you need to purchase and download software, chances are that—thanks to Digital River—you can now do so with Bitcoin.
Spending your Bitcoin at a bricks-and-mortar store isn’t as easy as spending them online. That’s because few traditional retailers accept Bitcoin payment.
Certainly, no major nationwide retailer accepts Bitcoin at this point. Not Macy’s, not Home Depot, not Target or Walmart. And you won’t find any nationwide restaurant franchises accepting Bitcoin, either—you can’t pay for your food via Bitcoin at McDonald’s or Chipotle or Panera Bread.
You might, however, be able to find smaller, independent retailers and restaurants that are Bitcoin-friendly, especially if you live in a tech center like the Silicon Valley or the Seattle area. But it will take a little searching because Bitcoin-friendly merchants are literally few and far between.
If you’re searching for local businesses that accept Bitcoin payments, try the BitPages Directory (www.bitpages.co/listing/), which lets you browse by city or category. And the CoinMap website (www.coinmap.org) offers an interactive map that tracks thousands of Bitcoin-friendly merchants. With either site, just keep drilling down until you find merchants near you that accept Bitcoin payments.
Viewing local Bitcoin-friendly merchants at the CoinMap website—zoom in for more detail.
There are other vendors accepting payment by Bitcoin that aren’t quite bricks-and-mortar entities and are not exclusively online either. For example, the Dish Network lets you pay your monthly satellite TV bill via Bitcoin if you so desire. In addition, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings let you buy game tickets with Bitcoin, so there’s that. And Virgin Galactic will let you book your next personal space flight with Bitcoin—or will when they actually have a practical service underway.
The point is, more and more businesses are jumping on the Bitcoin bandwagon. It’s likely that the trend will continue, nudging Bitcoin closer to being a viable spendable currency.
Etsy (www.etsy.com) is an online marketplace for individuals and small businesses selling handmade and vintage items, including artwork, crafts, jewelry, and the like. It works a little bit like eBay, in that Etsy serves as the host site and the middleman for all transactions between buyers and sellers.
As such, it’s kind of a big deal that Etsy offers a Bitcoin payment option to its sellers. (More precisely, Etsy allows its merchants to accept Bitcoin payments, typically through a third-party processor—not through Etsy itself.) Not all Etsy sellers accept Bitcoin payment, but hundreds do. So if you’re looking for the kinds of stuff you can find on Etsy, look for those sellers that accept payment by Bitcoin. (You’ll find that info in the seller’s Policies section.)