By Josh Brooks, Head of Marketing at OnBuy.co
With some of the biggest names in the business turning to cryptocurrencies, it’s becoming harder to ignore just how influential and impactful these could be on the eCommerce industry – and likely sooner than you’d think.
Although relatively immature, cryptocurrency is making huge shakes in the retail sector, and certainly looks like it’s here to stay. Some of the largest multinational enterprises have already dipped into this new digital playing field and many others are following suit. Just last week, Tesla announced that it had bought $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin to hold on its balance sheet, and is planning to allow its customers to use this coin to pay for cars. But it doesn’t end there. In the same week, Mastercard disclosed its plans to let merchants accept some forms of cryptocurrencies through its network later on this year, which will convert traditional money to digital currency before entering the companies’ systems. Other leading enterprises making the move to embrace cryptocurrency include Square, who already give users of its Cash App access to buy Bitcoin, and Fuse.io, who recently partnered with Monerium to create a platform for entrepreneurs to turn “communities into economies” via a blockchain.
In the aftermath of last week’s announcements, the price of Bitcoin surged to a record of $48,297, highlighting the problematic volatility of cryptocurrencies. While it’s undeniable that its erratic fluctuation in value holds substantial implications on its profitability, there’s still an ever-increasing buzz around cryptocurrency in the eCommerce world. Before delving into that, it’s first worth noting exactly what cryptocurrency is.
What is cryptocurrency?
In short, cryptocurrency is a form of digital currency that’s independent from banks and governments. Instead of being regulated by a central control, cryptocurrency uses encryption techniques to control its use and administer its release. Transactions are verified by a decentralized system and then distributed on a blockchain (a digital public ledger) as a public account of records. This prevents the user from spending the coin multiple times, acting as a check and balance to regulate use.
Cryptocurrency can be bought through a broker, traded online, transferred between peers using ‘cryptocurrency wallets’ or mined, all of which is typically recorded on a blockchain. Although Bitcoin (BTC) is the most well-known cryptocurrency, there are many other types of digital currencies available under the name of ‘Altcoins’, a blanket term used for all Bitcoin alternatives. These include Ethereum (ETH), Litecoin (LTC), Ripple (XRP), Neo (NEO) and thousands of others that have emerged since 2018. Some Altcoins use a peer-to-peer exchange system like Bitcoin, while others use unique mechanics that can offer different levels of protection and privacy. For example, some coins don’t use a blockchain at all, offering fully private transactions, while some offer pseudo-anonymous transactions in the form of encrypted data.
The term ‘cryptocurrency’ was coined as a neologism made up of the root word ‘crypto’, meaning ‘secret’, and ‘currency’, the system of money for a specific region or country. This stands as both its name and definition in one, representing a hidden – or secret – system of money.
The benefits of using cryptocurrency in eCommerce
Both centred around tech, it would be fair to assume that cryptocurrency and eCommerce have the potential to complement each other quite nicely – and, in a few cases, they already are. Cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin, are already infiltrating the eCommerce industry, offering an innovative, viable and streamlined digital solution for many existing blockers. With the ability to appease consumer demand for immediacy and security, while expanding market share for retailers, cryptocurrencies could prove extremely beneficial for the eCommerce industry if adopted efficiently. More and more companies have grown to understand these benefits, leading to a surge in consumer attention, and it may not be long before we start to see the commercial use of cryptocurrency as standard.
One of the biggest problems eCommerce companies face during globalisation is having to adjust prices and currencies to accommodate the individual fiats of each country. Fiat money is the government-issued currency used as standard in any given country, like British pounds or US dollars. While OnBuy is circumventing this concern for its retailers by providing auto-currency conversion and using PayPal to process global payments, cryptocurrencies also negate this concern entirely as they can be used in every country of the world without having to adapt prices or currencies, making global expansion far more streamlined for businesses. Further to that, there’s a vast, ever-growing community of people using cryptocurrencies across the world, offering an entirely new market share to target. Through accepting this method of payment, via a digital wallet or credit card platform, eCommerce companies could delve into this new market and appeal to a greater volume of consumers.
Due to the blockchain, it’s difficult to reuse or counterfeit cryptocurrencies and cancel a transaction once it’s complete (without the consent of the retailer). This not only gives retailers more control, but also offers them greater protection against fraud, as there’s no central control that could withdraw the funds from their account without consent. In addition to this, the encryption technology used by cryptocurrencies also offers a greater level of security for buyers’ data, preventing the likelihood of cyber-attacks.
Cryptocurrency is processed immediately, unlike bank transactions which can take a few days to process, giving the retailer instant access to funds. This allows companies to streamline their cash flow, which is particularly beneficial for those with aggressive expansion plans. What’s more, this allows for instantaneous shipping of products once the required payments have been made, allowing for a fast-tracked delivery service which is particularly appealing to buyers.
Blockchains not only affect transactions but the exchange of useful information to the buyer, too. Retailers can use the blockchain to make associations, track inventory and create personalised, targeted offers and discounts to buyers. Not only that, they can issue redeemable reward points to returning customers whenever they hit a particular spending threshold. These special offers and loyalty programs can attract more customers and further expand their market reach.
Is the eCommerce market ready for cryptocurrency?
Although the commercial use of cryptocurrency has many advantages, which are becoming increasingly apparent as it infiltrates the eCommerce sector, there are some substantial risks associated with it that are currently hindering its mainstream adoption. More commonly used by the major tech giants and technologically-advanced buyers (the minority), rather than large-scale brands or smaller, independent retailers, cryptocurrency may not be suitable for the current commercial scene as it stands today.
Due to the nature of cryptocurrency exchange and additional coin generation, the market value of cryptocurrencies fluctuate erratically. This makes cryptocurrency far less reliable than fiat currency. This poses many potential issues for both buyers and sellers alike, particularly with the valuation of goods and services, and it gets even more complicated in the case of returns. If a customer buys a product for X-amount of coin and wants to return this item a few weeks later, but the value of the cryptocurrency fluctuates in this time, how much coin would the seller return to them? In these cases, the seller could make a loss or they could lose custom through their buyers making a loss and, with a lack of a consensus in the community, there’s no right or wrong way to go about this situation, making it all the more difficult.
Lack of trust
One of the biggest blockers preventing the mainstream adoption of cryptocurrency is the lack of trust surrounding it. This is not just down to the lack of an established central control, but also media scepticism and the use of technological lexis which is largely misunderstood by the average consumer. There’s a general air of uncertainty around cryptocurrencies, bolstered by fears of illegalities, which provides retailers no guarantee that consumers will use these provisions if adopted, leaving questions as to whether it’s even worth the risk.
How financial industries are responding to cryptocurrency
Gone are the days where traditional banks could brush off cryptocurrency as a passing craze. The market for cryptocurrencies has grown at a tremendous rate in recent years, and is now worth over £1 billion. As such, banks and other traditional financial institutions are having to face the reality that cryptocurrency is likely here to stay, and have already begun exploring adaptations to keep up with competition.
In 2019, JPMorgan Chase launched their own cryptocurrency, JPM Coin, which harnesses cryptocurrency’s instantaneous nature, offering faster transaction settlements and funds transfers between clients – and they’re not the only ones. In fact, more than 100 banks across the world have tested instant payments via Ripple (XRP), and activity shows no sign of slowing down soon.
It’s unsurprising that cryptocurrency is gaining international interest, particularly as it allows for hassle-free, cheaper foreign exchange. Currently, the foreign exchange system is time-consuming, expensive and requires a nostro account, a corresponding foreign bank account which holds the domestic currency of the country where the funds are held. With cryptocurrency, funds are automatically converted to coin and changed to the destination currency in seconds, omitting costly holding fees while significantly shortening the exchange process. Bitbond, a German online bank, are already harnessing this technology, using Bitcoin as a bridge asset to transfer loan amounts into the destination country.
As understanding around cryptocurrency grows, the benefits of its technologies are becoming clearer. From faster payment processing to the facilitation of international cash transfers, enhanced data protection and reduced overhead and operating costs, it would be remiss of financial institutions to not explore the dynamic technologies and systems that cryptocurrencies provide.
How stablecoin is shaping the future of cryptocurrency in eCommerce
The volatile nature of cryptocurrency is one of the more substantial blockers that has prevented its adoption in the eCommerce world, but that may all be about to change at the hands of stablecoin. Stablecoins attempt to tackle unreliable price fluctuations by pegging the value of cryptocurrencies to a more stable asset, typically fiat money. These are more commonly known as ‘fiat-collateralised stablecoins’, where a reserve is created to securely store the asset backing the cryptocurrency, essentially serving as collateral. As such, stablecoins offer the best of both worlds, providing the instant process and privacy of transactions made with cryptocurrencies, while offering the volatility-free stable valuations of fiat currencies
There are four key variants that are necessary for the mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies in eCommerce: development and accessibility of the appropriate technology, consumer demand, corporate champions and an accountable regulatory central control. All aside from the latter are currently available, courtesy of stablecoin. If the final variant emerges over the course of the next few years, cryptocurrency certainly has the potential to successfully breach the eCommerce industry.
Interestingly, the aforementioned partnership between Fuse.io and Monerium may well be the start of this necessary transition to standardise cryptocurrency. This partnership aims to bring regulated fiat money to Fuse.io’s “low-fee” and “high throughput” blockchain, supporting micro-economies with a scalable, cost-effective payment solution. However, unlike stablecoins, the digital money will be “unconditionally” redeemable at any time, with funds capable of transferring directly into bank accounts without the need for counter-parties. This announcement has certainly excited the tech world, and it has the potential to act as a catalyst for the mainstream adoption of cryptocurrency if proven successful.
This market is still very much untapped, but the future is certainly looking bright. As such, eCommerce managers and those in the industry should closely monitor news about blockchains and cryptocurrencies, and create a contingency plan for the easy implementation of such in the event that they do become more widely adopted and standardised.
Josh Brooks, Head of Marketing at OnBuy.com – the fastest-growing marketplace in the world and one of the fastest-growing tech startups in South West England, bringing innovation to the eCommerce industry. Developing future solutions involving cryptocurrency and fintech is one of the areas of expertise for OnBuy.