bitcoin

Bitcoin boon? Overstock to become biggest retailer to accept the virtual currency

Dec. 20, 2013 at 5:58 PM ET

Overstock.com could start accepting bitcoin sometime in 2014.
Overstock.com
Overstock.com could start accepting bitcoin sometime in 2014.

Bitcoin enthusiasts will soon be able to go on a bigger shopping spree thanks to Overstock.com, which is slated to become the biggest retailer in the U.S. to accept the virtual currency.

Online retailer Overstock.com plans to start accepting bitcoin near the end of the second quarter of 2014, CEO Patrick Byrne announced.

The news was first reported on Thursday by newsBTC, and later confirmed by MarketWatch and CNN. Byrne said that he wasn't sure if the company would develop its own payment system, or rely on a bitcoin payment processor like Coinbase or BitPay. 

"Credit cards were never designed for the Internet, and forward-thinking CEOs recognize that bitcoin is a much lower risk and lower cost method of payment," Tony Gallippi, BitPay's co-founder and CEO, told NBC News on Thursday in an email. 

Proponents have argued that the lack of credit card fees and not having to deal with fradulent credit card charges make bitcoin a good choice for merchants, while skeptics have pointed to the virtual currency's volatility as a reason why it will never be widely accepted. 

Bitcoin could use some good news. On Wednesday, its value plummeted to $572 — more than 50 percent off its all-time high — after the world's largest bitcoin exchange, BTC China, announced that it would stop accepting payments in Chinese currency. Bitcoin was trading for $680 on Friday afternoon on Mt. Gox, a widely cited international exchange. 

"Overstock.com is a trusted household name with a great reputation," Jinyoung Lee Englund, spokesperson for the Bitcoin Foundation, an organization that promotes use of the virtual currency, wrote in an email to NBC News. "Their leadership naturally carves the way for other mainstream companies to consider accepting bitcoin payments and this demand inspires investors and entrepreneurs to build the companies necessary to deliver." 

While plenty of people have shown enthusiasm for bitcoin since it was created in 2009, they haven't had a lot of places that they could spend it. Currently, you can use it to buy a membership on dating website OkCupid, gift cards on Gyft and other goods from smaller e-commerce sites and brick-and-mortar businesses.

Overstock is different. With $1.1 billion in reported revenue in 2012 and hundreds of thousands of products for sale — from bed sheets to digital cameras — it would be the largest U.S. retailer to start accepting bitcoin as a general payment method. Yes, another big company, Virgin, announced in November that it would accept bitcoin — but only if you want to take a flight into space aboard Virgin Galactic. 

Keith Wagstaff writes about technology for NBC News. He previously covered technology for TIME's Techland and wrote about politics as a staff writer at TheWeek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kwagstaff and reach him by email at: Keith.Wagstaff@nbcuni.com

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