For a large part of its existence, the Bitcoin (BTC) community placed a lot of faith in the cryptocurrency becoming a viable alternative to many centralized payment systems existing in the market. However, BTC currently is mostly used as a long-term investment – an asset much like gold or stocks.
How and why did this happen? On close inspection, it seems that Bitcoin as a payment service was doomed from the very beginning, as its underlying blockchain technology simply can’t scale to compete with industry giants such as Visa, MasterCard and PayPal.
The main problem is the amount of transactions that the network is able to process. Bitcoin’s absolute maximum capacity is a mere 7 transactions per second (tps), while Visa easily handles an average of 150 mln transactions every day, and is capable of facilitating 24,000 tps.
As more and more people started using Bitcoin and sending transactions, the network became bloated. Along with the amount of transactions, the waiting times and, most importantly, transaction fees have skyrocketed.
According to blockchain.info’s data, the average waiting time in winter 2018 was in the region of hours, in some extreme cases – hundreds, sometimes even thousands of hours. The graph peaked on Jan. 23 at an astronomical number of 11,453 minutes – almost 20 days.
It is worth noting that such excessive waiting times were most likely associated with microscopic transactions sent through with tiny transaction fees, if any at all. So, miners simply avoided confirming such transactions as it would be a waste of time and resources for them.
Still, for the transaction to go through as quickly as possible, users had to pay massive amounts of fees so that miners will actually confirm them. According to BitInfoCharts, at one point during the winter period users had to pay an average of $55 to see their transaction go through.
Quite obviously, no one is going to use Bitcoin to buy a $3 dollar cup of coffee and have to pay 15 times that amount in fees and wait for a couple of hours until transaction is confirmed. But still, stating that ‘we accept Bitcoin’ is still a very useful PR stunt for businesses.
However, as of now Bitcoin seems to have gone over its winter crisis. The waiting times returned to a 10-30 minutes mark and the transaction fees dropped back to around $1. For now.
The two graphs mentioned above correlate exactly with Bitcoin’s price. As you all remember, it managed to climb over a $20,000 mark this winter and everyone went into a frenzy. Now that its price is back below a $10,000 mark, the general public seems to have calmed down a bit and, as a result, the network is back to its normal service.
Moreover, the Lightning Network, which is hailed to be the solution to Bitcoin’s scalability problem is being actively and successfully tested at the moment. Once fully implemented, it might make the community’s dreams of Bitcoin competing with Visa a reality.
But the damage was done. As a result of the winter crisis, several high-profile service providers and retails stopped accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment. Here’s a small example of the largest companies:
- Dell — They were the biggest company to support BTC payments, but dropped the option due to low demand.
- Steam — They used to accept BTC for game purchases, but stopped doing so citing high transaction fees and incredible volatility as the reasons to doing so.
- Fiverr — This freelance marketplace stopped accepting BTC for the same reason Dell did – lack of interest in the option.
- Stripe — A payment processor for businesses has recently ended support for BTC due to slow confirmation times and high fees.
However, there are still a lot of services what you can spend your Bitcoins on:
List of major online merchants
- Overstock — the first large online retailer to accept and fully support Bitcoin payments. You can buy anything from furniture to laptops and television sets.
- Newegg — an electronic retail giant is accepting Bitcoin payments for most of its stock.
- Shopify — an e-commerce platform that allows users to create their own online stores similar to Etsy and eBay.
- Etsy — around 100 vendors accept Bitcoin payments now.
- Microsoft — one of the biggest companies in the world allows users to add money to their accounts with Bitcoin.
Most major online retailers are still not accepting Bitcoins as a form of payment, but there is a way of buying products from them using only digital currency. See the Gift Cards section below.
List of aggregators
- Where To Spend Bitcoins UK — a directory of shops, pubs, websites and other places in the UK that accept Bitcoins.
- useBitcoins — a platform with almost 5,000 listed businesses that accept BTC.
- Coinmap — a map of Bitcoin-accepting businesses worldwide.
- Spendabit — a search engine capable of finding specific good available to buy for Bitcoins.
Bitcoin’s acceptance as a payment option depends on a particular company’s decision. Hence, there are no specific markets where BTC is universally accepted. Instead, there are various companies in different sectors of services looking to expand their client bases by introducing digital currencies as a new payment option.
- Dish Network — an American direct-broadcast satellite service provider.
- ExpressVPN — high speed, secure VPN network.
- PureVPN — high speed, secure VPN network.
- OKCupid — online dating website.
- WordPress — an online company that allows users to create websites and blogs.
- Reddit — you can buy premium features with Bitcoins.
- Namecheap — domain name register.
- Bloomberg, Chicago Sun-Times, etc — online-newspaper subscription for Bitcoins.
- SuicideGirls — a popular adult-themed community now accepts Bitcoins for a subscription.
- Treehouse — an online interactive education specialist, accepting Bitcoin for a variety of courses.
Back in the day, you had to visit a physical store to purchase a video game. These days, most gamers shop online. Video games are becoming a digital possession, much like digital currencies themselves. So it is only natural that more and more leading game-selling platforms are accepting Bitcoins.
- Xbox — pay for games, add-ons and Xbox Live subscription.
- PlayStation Network — pay for games, add-ons and PS Network subscription.
- Humble Bundle — indie games website.
- Big Fish Games — casual gaming company based in Seattle, Washington.
- Green Man Gaming — games, game keys and digital games.
- Zynga — mobile and online games.
There are a lot of competing travel-related services and most of them offer very similar toolkits. Offering alternative ways of payment is a great way to attract new customers. Here are some services where you can book your dream holiday and pay for it with your Bitcoins:
- Expedia — one of the world’s largest online travel booking agencies currently accepts BTC payments for hotel bookings, but is planning to introduce Bitcoin payment option for flights, activities and so on.
- AirBaltic — the first airline ever to accept Bitcoin payment for a variety of flights.
- Webjet — a travel booking website offering flights, hotels, cruises, car hire and so on.
- CheapAir — online travel booking website where you can pay for flights, car rentals, railway tickets and so on.
- Bitcoin Travel — a travel booking website with one of the most comprehensive lists of businesses that use Bitcoin.
- Travel For Coins — a travel booking website that allows users to make their travel arrangements and pay for them with Bitcoins.
- Virgin Galactic — Richard Branson’s company, the world’s first commercial space line accepts Bitcoins.
Tipping & Charity
Donating money to charity often incurs huge fees. Moreover, some people would prefer to keep their donations anonymous, for one reason or another. Donating money in Bitcoins is a perfect way of avoiding those fees and keeping the donation anonymous.
- Wikimedia Foundation — a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual educational content.
- Wikileaks — an international non-profit organization that publishes secret information, news leaks and classified media provided by anonymous sources.
- Bitcoin for Charity List — A continually growing list of verified charities that accept Bitcoins. It even includes their wallet addresses!
Unfortunately, there are very few major offline retailers that are accepting direct Bitcoin payments. However, it is possible to buy goods from most major shops using BTC, see the Gift Cards section below.
Food, Bitcoin-friendly bars
- Subway — you can buy sandwiches with Bitcoins in various locations all over the world.
- PizzaForCoins — a service that lets you order pizza with Bitcoins.
- Pembury Tavern — a tavern in London, UK.
- Old Fitzroy — a pub in Sydney, Australia.
- The Pink Cow — a diner in Tokyo, Japan.
- Burger Bear — a food stall in London, UK.
There are several taxi dispatch services as well as airport transportation services in various parts of the world that accept Bitcoin payment. Here’s a mappable list of such companies.
A very big part of Bitcoin-related transactions are purchases of gift cards. It is by far the easiest way of buying products from both massive worldwide companies and small local businesses with the cryptocurrency, online and offline.
Several websites allow users to buy gift cards of pretty much any value with Bitcoins, among them are:
Merchants accepting Bitcoins in Japan
In the beginning of 2017, Recruit Lifestyle Co., Ltd partnered with Japanese Bitcoin exchange Coincheck to create a point-of-sale app called ‘Mobile Payment for AirREGI.’ The tablet-based app-enabled merchants all over Japan to easily accept Bitcoin payment.
The first rollout saw a chain of 334 eyeglasses store across Japan to begin accepting Bitcoins. Currently, there are around 260,000 commercial facilities, food establishments, drugstores and other retail locations all over the country accepting BTC.
The latest additions to the ever-growing list of merchants accepting Bitcoins include famous capsule hotels such as Comicap and Anshin Oyado, a major consumer electronics retail chain Bic Camera and Kai Corporation, which owns five unique restaurants in Japan.
For those who prefer to store their funds in a heavy, physical form there are companies such as BitGold, which specializes in utilizing gold for payments and savings, including Bitcoin. There is also a company called Amagi Metals, which has been trading Bitcoins for precious metals since 2012.
Unusual ways of spending Bitcoins
In 2013, The University of Nicosia, a private school in Cyprus, became the first university to offer a program called “Master of Science in Digital Currency.” Of course, if you wish to study this program, you can pay your tuition fees in Bitcoins.
Meltdown Comic Shop in Los Angeles recently became the first-ever comic book store to accept Bitcoins.
For those who have made their fortune with Bitcoin, there is a luxury BTC marketplace BitPremier, where you could buy a villa in Bali or an $11 mln yacht. Moreover, a US luxury jewelry chain Reeds has recently started accepting Bitcoins as well.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try your luck on one of the numerous Bitcoin online casinos and gambling sites.
Lastly, the mysterious dark web is filled with websites and marketplaces, where Bitcoins are accepted for a variety of goods and services, yet they are completely illegal in most countries.