Shades of grey
Shopping for a hand grenade or illicit drugs? The Darknet facilitates such transactions but we are not suggesting that you curiously venture into that world. For one, you risk being tagged online as a potential suspect for law enforcement agencies. Second, this opens up the risks of being hacked and held ransom by shady characters or even some innocent looking ransomware.
Naturally, we are starting of discussion on the status of merchant adoption of cryptocurrencies from this angle because this is how it all started many years ago. Bitcoin was widely used by criminals in the past to launder money. This is not the case anymore as many came to realize that Bitcoin is pseudonymous. In other words, the transactions are not entirely private and you run the risk of being tracked down. So, the dark world has shifted away to privacy coins such as Monero. Irrespective, the fact remains that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have proven utility as a payment solution.
Regulations around the use of cryptocurrencies have evolved significantly. Most on-ramp facilities (where you can convert fiat currency to a cryptocurrency) have KYC (know your customer) & AML (anti-money laundering) requirements. Initially designed to weed-out bad actors, these requirements are now turning into mass surveillance tools for governments.
Criminals have long moved away from cryptocurrency into the medium that is more opaque and one that leaves little trail. Guess what?…cash is laundered 800 times more than any single cryptocurrency. Unfortunately, the focus of law-enforcement is completely displaced when in reality more needs to be done with the money that is laundered through banks.
First world affection?
Cryptocurrency is beginning to see the light of the day with legitimate businesses adopting this form of payment for services and products. The infrastructure is also expanding and improving rapidly with interest from technology companies and commercial banks. Within a short span of time, any individuals with a mobile phone has the ability to transact with anyone in the world through the use of cryptocurrency.
Chainalysis, a provider of on-chain information for law enforcement estimates that about USD 4 billion in Bitcoin transaction alone was sent thorough payment processors in 2019. In contrast to credit card transactions this is just a drop in the ocean. However, the speed of growth is staggering.
Merchants have specific reasons to expand their payment channels with many courting new generation of customers. In addition, the relative ease with which transactions can be done and the speed with which finality is achieved allows greater B2B payments especially cross-border transactions. Fees can be minimized by a big quantum compared to legacy banking services and funds arrive much faster.
Merchant adoption may not be obvious in developing countries but anyone spending significant time online could have encountered these option. The highest concentration of merchants currently are in the following cities: San Francisco, New York, Tampa in US, Vancouver in Canada, Zurich, Amsterdam & London in Europe, Buenos Aires in South America.
Asia is just in the early stages of the adoption curve. Companies providing services within this space have massive potential for growth. Demand is arriving from wholesale buyers in Asia especially within the B2B space. Consumer on the other hand prefer to accumulate Bitcoin rather than spend it. Gradually, this too will change as Bitcoin goes mainstream and more business start accepting it. One important case is Kopitiam, which is a largest restaurant chain operator in Singapore. They started accepting Bitcoin payments in July of 2019. In Thailand, Cineplex which operates a vast number of cinemas started accepting Bitcoin for payment mid-2018.
Globally, major brands have also started getting accustomed receiving payment in Bitcoin as well as other cryptocurrencies. Expedia and Booking.com for example are now supporting travelers who wish to make hotel or transportation booking using Bitcoin. Cashback schemes are common features that avid shoppers look for when finding bargains online. Lolli realized the potential within this space and has now support for up to 30% back in Bitcoin when you shop online at any one of their 950 merchants worldwide.
What is then the scale of adoption by merchants currently? Coinmap provides visualization of nearly all merchants supporting Bitcoin payment at their physical stores. As of February, 2020, an estimated 16,023 merchants worldwide support Bitcoin payments according to the site. There is also a heatmap which shows the distribution of this merchants. You could zoom in any particular city and discover services which currently offer payments in Bitcoin.
Don’t be surprised to see even property developers and real-estate management companies accepting Bitcoin for property purchases or rental payments.
Unlike legacy payment gateways, the process by which a merchant could establish the business process and infrastructure is a lot simpler. This can be done either through on-chain payments where every transaction is recorded on the distributed ledger or with off-chain solutions like Lightning which offer much lower transaction fees and support micro-payments.
BTCpayserver is an excellent choice when it comes to setting up an independent payment channel. This can be done on-premise with the use of a server or even something as simple as a Raspberry Pi 4 (a cheap single board computer). Alternative, companies could also opt to host their payment gateway at any one of the online providers. Setting up does require a certain level of technical skills.
For the less technically inclined ecommerce operator, there are WordPress plugins and many other e-commerce hosting providers also now offer features that support Bitcoin payment.
A common concern among merchants is the volatility seen in the cryptocurrency markets. Many of the solutions above offer support for conversion to fiat once payment is received from customers. In many instances, the process is automated and the merchant would only see fiat currency being deposited into the bank account. Surprisingly, only one-third of merchants opt for this option as some reports indicate. Businesses also appear to realize that there is great potential in Bitcoin with valuations that is increasing over time.
Payment with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency will disrupt the existing payment providers relying on outdated technology and cost-inefficient processes. Customers are the eventual winners when more merchants adopt Bitcoin payments. At Cryptodurian.com we subscribe to this changing paradigm by accepting either Bitcoin or Ethereum as payment for our expanding range of products and services.