Is cryptocurrency the future of retail?

Published March 24, 2022

Cryptocurrency is taking the world by storm and is increasingly being purchased inside of retail stores being used to make retail purchases

Back in 2009, a whitepaper appeared under the mysterious name of Satoshi Nakamoto, laying down the basics for an electronic peer to peer cash system. This became the phenomenon we know as Bitcoin, which became the world’s first truly digital currency. Countless others have followed including Ether, Ripple, EOS and a whole army of others. Today, they have become a common part of the investment landscape, but they are also increasingly being used for what its original purpose was – as a form of currency with which you can make purchases. Retailers of all sizes stand to benefit.

Cryptocurrency moves from the fringes

Cryptocurrencies are digital forms of currency. They use distributed ledger or blockchain technology to process transactions which are verified and recorded in a decentralized – rather than centralized – system. In the last couple of years, they have moved from the fringes of the financial world to the center. Regular investors have been getting involved and the likes of Tesla have been accepting them for payments.

One of the keenest adopters of cryptocurrency is real estate. In 2019, a luxury condo in Miami was purchased using cryptocurrency – the largest digital transaction in real estate to date. Other major deals have also used digital currencies. They have many advantages. They are decentralized, have faster and lower cost transactions and can cut out much of the red tape which can add cost and time to real estate deals.

However, until recently, they have not been seen as viable for smaller, everyday purchases. They are new, unproven and famously volatile. It’s that volatility which makes it so attractive to many high-risk investors. With currencies taking double digit moves within a day, there’s the chance to make real returns.

 Last year, the teen retailer Pacsun announced it would be accepting bitcoin to keep up with one of the ‘major trends’ affecting younger people. Their customer base is primarily generation Z which is also likely to be the keenest adopters of digital currency. According to data from, 54% of current or former crypto owners are generation Z.  

A host of other retailers now accept bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency in their retail stores –  including Whole Foods, Home Depot, GameStop, Newegg, Starbucks, AT&T and Microsoft. Amazon is exploring the technology and already has plans to launch its own cryptocurrency.

There are clear and obvious benefits. The overall market capitalization of cryptocurrencies has topped $2 trillion, buoyed by a recent surge in the price for Bitcoin. Recent data suggests that 27 million people in the US, or 8.3% of the total population already own cryptocurrency. Awareness is growing – 57% of Americans had heard of cryptocurrencies in 2018. By 2019, it had already surged to over 70%.

In those demographics most attractive to retailers – people between the ages of 18 to 54, a third of people currently own cryptocurrencies and 70% of people would use them to make purchases if they could do so using wallets such as Apple Pay. A report from PYMNTS shows that even those who do not currently hold cryptocurrencies want to make payments using it. Two thirds of those who had held cryptocurrencies have used them to make payments and 60% of those who have not wanted the option.

It’s even becoming more common in traditional brick and mortar stores. The likes of Walgreens, Sheetz and a growing number of other companies give people the chance to purchase cryptocurrency at brick and mortar outlets. This allows consumers to have access to their cryptocurrency immediately after payment instead of upwards of a week for access while waiting for their electronic bank transfer (ACH) to clear.

Retailers are adopting point of sale solutions, in-store ATMs and self-service checkouts to give people a chance to buy cryptocurrencies allowing consumers to purchase with both cash and debit cards. Flexa is offering point of sale integrations which allow companies to accept crypto payments in store. Mobile wallets – which make it possible to hold and make cryptocurrency payments – make it as quick and simple to pay for goods using bitcoin as with your regular debit or credit card.

Adoption is being driven by a desire among retailers to cater to customers’ wish to have as many different payment options as possible from cash to credit cards, mobile wallets and cryptocurrencies, and everything else in between. Retailers also receive part of the money when cryptocurrencies are sold via touchpoints in their store. Accepting it helps them to attract a wider range of customers with a wider range of demands.

Related: What’s the secret to an agile retail strategy for the future?

Bitcoin can also be difficult for consumers to get their hands on. These in-store ATMs and kiosks make it quick and simple to buy bitcoin in store, bringing people from all over the place to make transactions. These options increase footfall which can boost overall revenue elsewhere in the business.

Retailers are in a unique position to sell cryptocurrencies at touchpoints across the store because the retailer already has space which they can use to facilitate transactions. They can make it quicker and easier for customers to buy cryptocurrencies than if they go online or use an app.

The current climate might be particularly ripe thanks to the key differences between cryptocurrencies and regular or fiat currencies. Unlike the dollar, Bitcoin is not subject to inflation, something which is especially useful in the current economic climate.

2022 and beyond

Cryptocurrency adoption is still very much in its infancy. A minority of retailers accept digital currencies online and an even smaller number of businesses have it in-store. However, this is growing rapidly, thanks to growing awareness and acceptance.

Much of this might have been due in part to COVID-19 which has accelerated digital adoption and made businesses more open to new technologies. The number of people who are completely unfamiliar to cryptocurrencies is dwindling by the day and the number of people who see it as a viable payment option is growing. According to a report from Payments Industry Intelligence the majority of crypto-consumers see cryptocurrencies as a new payment standard.

Even though people are still in the early stages of a learning curve regarding cryptocurrencies, the early movers in retail crypto adopters are some of the most recognizable names in the retail space. This name recognition instantly brings a sense of comfort and trust which previously was lacking.

Adoption is a matter of when, not if. When the biggest retailers such as Amazon start regularly taking cryptocurrency payments, a watershed moment will have been reached. Not only will it have become acceptable to use cryptocurrencies, but it will also become expected. As we’ve seen with other payment channels, once customers start to accept something, businesses would be well advised to ensure they offer it.

When that moment comes, having crypto capabilities at checkout lanes in the retail store will be hugely beneficial. This will be in the exact place that people are most likely to want to buy it. Businesses will have access to a huge revenue opportunity.

The rise of cryptocurrency is going to change everything. International travellers will be able to use cryptocurrencies as a form of payment without worrying about converting currency when traveling. People will be able to go quickly to the retail store, pick up a few items and pay with Bitcoin, Ether or any other digital currency. Transactions can be faster and more transparent than many others.

Cryptocurrency adoption in retail is coming, and it pays to be ready sooner than later. Any bright shiny technology such as this attracts a huge amount of interest and has a stronger potential to drive lasting change in buyer behavior in its early days. People want to be able to try new things and experiment with new payment options.

In a world in which retail adoption is still rare, this will give people a specific reason to visit a store where you can purchase – and eventually pay with – cryptocurrency. Once there, retailers have the opportunity to upsell to this new drawn-in audience in a number of ways. As adoption grows, meanwhile, those who were first to move will have a crucial head start on a sector which is becoming a hugely important part of the retail space.

UNLOCK INSIGHTS: Entering the Metaverse - What It Means for YOU in Retail

Need more information?