Retailers were already skeptical about letting customers pay with bitcoin before the cryptocurrency’s price underwent an astronomical rally this year. That rapid surge hasn’t made them any more accepting. In fact, it may have done the opposite.
Bitcoin is accepted at just three of the top 500 online merchants tracked by the e-commerce news and analytics publication Internet Retailer, down from five last year, Morgan Stanley payments analyst James Faucette wrote Wednesday in a report, highlighting the "striking" discrepancy between virtually no merchant acceptance and bitcoin’s recent gains.
"Bitcoin owners are reluctant to use the cryptocurrency given its rate of appreciation, more evidence that bitcoin is more asset than currency," Faucette said. "Way easier to trade speculatively than convince new merchants to accept the cryptocurrency."
The hesitance among retailers may also be linked to bitcoin’s scaling challenges, as transactions become slower and more costly, he added. The consumer, rather than the retailer, bears that cost, which can vary depending on how the transaction in conducted.
Internet Retailer’s 2017 top 500 list, which is based on online sales, is led by Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Morgan Stanley, which based its usage analysis on the information, didn’t say which companies are using bitcoin.
Some cryptocurrency users no longer see the point in using bitcoin for small purchases given increased transaction fees, Atlantic Financial founder Bruce Fenton said in an interview last month.
"There’s a problem with the fees being so high -- it does price out certain things," said Fenton, who is a board member at the Bitcoin Foundation. "There are some micro transaction uses cases -- a cup of coffee is the big analogy everybody uses -- that are being sort of priced out just because bitcoin is going up so much."
Overstock.com Inc. board member Jonathan Johnson said in May that the number of bitcoin transactions on the discount retail website had actually tripled since the company introduced the cryptocurrency as a payment method in 2014. Overstock brings in "as much as $5 million per year" from bitcoin, said Johnson, who is also the president of Overstock’s blockchain subsidiary.