Since the release of the 2008 Bitcoin white paper by Satoshi, not one platform has actually achieved a significant impact in providing the underlying value proposition of bringing alternative payments into real everyday buying experience for the average customer.
There has been some movement, with Starbucks (SBUX), Tesla (TSLA) and Microsoft (MSFT) among the big-name brands that started accepting cryptocurrencies in 2021. Many more retailers are attracted by crypto’s reduced fees, faster and safer transactions, and ability to extend customer choice over payments. Swiss firm AXA Insurance, for example, started accepting crypto payments after learning nearly a third of respondents it surveyed had or were interested in crypto investments.
Sesie Bonsi is the founder and CEO of payment platform Bleu. This article is part of CoinDesk's Payments Week.
The blockchain market size for retail is set to reach $4.6 billion by 2028, as more industry professionals see its value and strive to meet customer demands. Yet, large-scale corporations won’t be the only ones fueling this growth. Small and medium-sized businesses also reported a 75% increase in customers and suppliers asking for cryptocurrency as a payment option.
With the overwhelming majority of retailers being small businesses, which contribute 43.5% of the U.S. GDP and create two-thirds of new jobs yet hold little liquidity in expenses, and 70% of which anticipate taking financial aid, the case for crypto is clear. With inflation soaring, small businesses including retailers cannot just save by holding dollars and should look to cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin (BTC), as a scarce asset that can be safely secured. Bitcoin’s value grows faster than inflation and makes a strong alternative savings vehicle and allows businesses to have sufficient savings for their ability to cover large unexpected circumstances. For small businesses and retailers alike, it is imperative that they should accept crypto as an alternative form of payment from a purely economic perspective alone.
A changing demographic
Crypto went from niche to mainstream last year and is by no means slowing down. The adoption of cryptocurrencies is propelled by a wider cultural shift. As older people retire and younger generations enter the workforce, the buying preferences of this new cohort will shape the future of retail and finance.
Millennials turning 40 years old were some of the hardest hit by the previous decade’s financial crisis, but in aggregate have worked hard and invested savvily to reduce the wealth disparity incurred from their disadvantaged position.
Those born between 1981 and 1996 are also the largest number of digital asset investors, with 45% of this cohort owning crypto in 2022, compared to roughly 30% in the same period the year before.
And Gen Z is not far behind them. The soaring popularity of non-fungible tokens (used as profile pictures on social media) is one illustration of tech-native younger generations who, having invested in the digital sphere, are looking for more ways to use their wealth and display assets.
All retailers want to keep their customers loyal. One way to do so is to cater to customer preferences with various payment options. Accepting only cash in 2022 feels like an almost deliberate retro-shoutout.
Providing crypto payments is one way to improve customer experience. It is especially significant for the 93% of crypto owners who say they would consider using crypto to make a purchase (while 57% have already made at least one crypto purchase in the last year).
Secure, in-store networks, mobile payments and biometric authentication may completely eradicate the need for traditional checkouts. Payment requests to a customer’s mobile device make paying in crypto as easy as with Visa (V), PayPal (PYPL) or any preferred digital payment option.
Stores of the future will be designed around these types of fluid, mobile-first and customer-centric experiences, so there’s no surprise nearly three-quarters of businesses surveyed see accepting new forms of payments as fundamental to their growth.
Offering crypto payments comes with both pros and cons for merchants. Accepting cryptocurrency requires a certain amount of effort, whether by modifying retailers’ existing point-of-sale (POS) terminals or redesigning their entire shop floor.
Likewise, the volatility of cryptocurrencies make them a risk, and they can be subject to complicated tax rules and regulations.
This complexity often forces retailers to be specific in their terms and conditions and to have impeccable book-keeping – a benchmark that should be set across the industry.
Crypto isn’t alone in having structural problems: Fraudulent credit card transactions and ID theft increased by 35% during the coronavirus pandemic and small, independent businesses remain some of the greatest affected. Mobile device crypto payments could be a step towards security there: because they are customer-led transactions, rather than routing through third-parties, crypto reduces the attack vector for fraud opportunities.
In addition, blockchain transactions are final – both a blessing and a curse. Retailers may manage their cash flow better but also need to keep track of how much exactly each customer has paid in case of a refund.
Retail’s adoption of crypto will be driven mainly by customer demand, however, retail crypto-managers could help reshape the payment industry like social media managers previously transformed how we perceive and interact with brands online.
Early retail adopters at the forefront of establishing industry standards can help improve current best practices. While intimidating for some, those who invest early are more likely to reap the rewards of a loyal and passionate crypto-customer base.
Crypto is spearheading the future of retail payments by refocusing stores on creating fully immersive customer journeys. Never before in retail have communities been built based on payment type preference and now brands can reach new customers and tap into crypto communities by creating shopping experiences around community values.
Cryptocurrencies are already accepted online or at some traditional points of sale. Next, demand for further use will push retailers to redesign stores and checkout experiences with consumer preferences in mind.