Photo by Michał Mancewicz
There are several reasons why the world is talking about retailers accepting Bitcoin in the first place. Firstly, there are millions of crypto holders worldwide with over 42 million blockchain wallets. In some countries, the number of people who own crypto reach up to 25% of the population. Secondly, the transactions are fast and secure. Thirdly, the transactions are cheap.
But sending Bitcoin isn’t faster or particularly less costly compared to bank transactions, you might say – how this can ever work for retailers with thousands of transactions daily? You will be right, but here’s exactly where Bitcoin’s Lightning Network comes in.
I won’t go into the details – there are several good materials explaining the technical layer of how it works – you can find it here and there. In several words, the Lightning Network enables users to generate secure off-chain channels and send payments in Bitcoin back and forth almost instantaneously, at almost zero cost. It enables vendors to accept Bitcoin as a payment method, without experiencing the inconvenience and potential drawbacks, while fully enjoying security of blockchain.
This material is focused on those who already accept Bitcoin and looks into implementing the Lightning Network for day-to-day payments, and those who create solutions to make this happen.
Who is already doing that?
While the original Bitcoin raises a lot of questions in the context of retail payments, its Lightning Network seems to suit the needs of retailers perfectly. While the concept of Lightning was originally described by Thaddeus Dryja and Joseph Poon in 2015, the talk of wide-scale adoption for retail purposes was out there only in 2018.
As we are about to enter 2020, we have already seen major use cases of retailers adopting Bitcoin payments: Swiss nationwide provider Worldline has just announced that 65,000 merchants in its clients network will soon be able to accept Bitcoin in retail stores.
We have seen many announcements of a kind recently, including enabled Bitcoin payments in Airbnb and Starbucks (we’ll touch upon that below). However, few of those are utilizing the Lightning Network. Not surprisingly – it took Bitcoin almost 10 years to make its way to some retail stores! So we probably should give Lightning some time and a chance to shine.
For now, Bitcoin payments via the Lightning Network are mostly possible in many rather exotic crypto-specific locations, like Lightning Pizza - pizza ordering service enables customers to order pizza and pay for it with Bitcoin using Lightning Network – and Bitrefill – service that enables to buy pre-paid phone minutes with crypto.
By the way, the latter stated that so far Bitcoin payments with lightning are more popular than any other crypto they accept. You can see the full directory of places that accept Bitcoin Lightning payments here.
Meanwhile, there are several strong projects that are working on software and hardware solutions to enable those with a much wider network of retailers – both online and offline. Let’s take a look at who they are.
Who is making this happen?
Founded in 2014, Fold was one of the earliest startups that enabled crypto payments. Originally, the app gave its users a tool to pay for their Starbucks coffee with Bitcoin and save 20%.
With Fold, users can either spend fiat at retailers and get bitcoin rewards, or send Bitcoin to the Fold app and use it for any payments. Fold app supports integration with two lightning-friendly wallets: BlueWallet and Breeze.
In September 2019 the startup raised $2,5 million from Fulgur Ventures among others – a VC specifically focused on the Lightning network – to develop and strengthen partnerships with retailers.
GeniePay is creating an ecosystem for both online and offline retailers that consists of a PoS terminal, e-wallet and online merchants payment system. The startup supports payments via the Lightning Network to enable businesses accept Bitcoin instantly and at a fraction of a cost.
An NFC chip reader embedded in the terminal enables contactless payments at retail locations by communicating directly with GeniePay wallets. For the merchants the company offers stablecoin settlements and assured-value transactions to tackle the volatility issue that still remains a concern for many traditional retail businesses.
This startup is developing a browser extension for Google Chrome, Brave and Opera that will let you you pay for your Amazon purchases with BItcoin via Lightning Network.
How it works: Moon automatically tops up your balance on Amazon account by converting your crypto and makes the payment directly from it as usual. The extension currently supports few test sites, but will soon let you pay with Bitcoin on eBay, AliExpress and Target.
As more people around the world start to own crypto and recognize its benefits, they are looking for ways to spend it for goods and services.
This puts the pressure on retailers to start accepting Bitcoin – the cryptocurrency with the highest market cap so far, over $127 billion (!) – to access this large pool of capital.
Whether the Lightning Network will become the ultimate solution that will facilitate adoption of Bitcoin worldwide – only time will show, but it will certainly pave the way for many retailers in 2020.