Bitcoin remains the most widely used cryptocurrency, so for many online vendors it's a good alternative to the U.S. dollar. Microsoft, CheapAir and other big retail names have already jumped on the Bitcoin bandwagon, with many more to follow.
To be fair, most Bitcoin-accepting vendors don't accept Bitcoin directly. They work through commissioned intermediaries, such as Paymium and Coinbase, to immediately convert Bitcoin receipts to fiat currency (usually U.S. dollars). They're not in the business of holding Bitcoin long-term, and most appear to be leery of Bitcoin's historical volatility. Still, they recognize that growing numbers of consumers see Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as viable alternatives to fiat currency, and they're willing to pay intermediary commissions to accommodate them.
With that in mind, here's a look at our top 10 vendors, based on size, user-friendliness, and lowest cost (if any) to the customer, who accept Bitcoin payments.
When Microsoft announced that it would start accepting Bitcoin, the currency's proponents rejoiced. Here was one of the world's biggest tech companies - one of its biggest companies, period - embracing the future of digital commerce. Aside from a brief scare in early 2016, when Microsoft erroneously announced that it would no longer accept Bitcoin and was later forced to apologize (per TechCrunch), it has been smooth sailing ever since.
You can add Bitcoin directly to your Microsoft Online account. From there, you're permitted to purchase pretty much any digital products and content offered by Microsoft, including Windows apps and games, Xbox games and music, and Windows Phone products. Microsoft doesn't yet allow Bitcoin for in-person or physical product purchases (such as new hardware and hard copies of Microsoft software), though that may change in the future.
Former (and maybe current) arch rivals Dell and Microsoft don't see eye-to-eye on much, but they've both enthusiastically embraced Bitcoin. You can use Bitcoin to purchase almost anything at Dell.com, including physical products. If you have a Coinbase account, you can send payments directly to Dell from there and avoid the miner's fee (well under 1% of the transaction). Otherwise, you can pay with your Bitcoin wallet or scan the product's QR code with your smartphone and follow the prompts.
Expedia accepts Bitcoin payments through Coinbase. Paying for travel with Bitcoin is just as easy as using a credit or debit card, though non-Coinbase users do have to accept the small miner's fee. (You can avoid this by creating a Coinbase account, which is a very handy thing to have anyway.) Coinbase users can also take advantage of Expedia's cancellation and refund policies.
For non-Coinbase users, all transactions are final. Notably, refunds are issued in U.S. dollars at the Bitcoin-dollar conversion rates in play at the time, so it's possible to make or lose money (in dollar terms) on refunds.
Overstock deserves special mention - and kudos - for its early embrace of Bitcoin. Back in 2014, the online retail giant became the first major e-commerce vendor to jump on the Bitcoin bandwagon.
The company's CEO is an outspoken advocate of Bitcoin (and of reducing the influence of central governments and monetary authorities in general). In fact, under his direction, Overstock has put its money where its mouth is - the company is one of the few major vendors that holds a substantial amount of its Bitcoin receipts in Bitcoin, rather than converting to fiat currency. That's an implicit, and encouraging, bet on Bitcoin's long-term future.
Newegg, an online retailer who specialize in personal electronics and computing equipment, is another big Bitcoin believer. Though its 10% discount offered to users who pay in Bitcoin has expired, Newegg continues to promote Bitcoin as a payment method.
If your digital wallet is stored on your desktop, laptop, or mobile device, you can simply click the "Pay with Bitcoin" button and complete your purchase in a few clicks. Alternatively, you can scan the QR card with your smartphone or click the "View Address" button to access cloud-based digital wallets. Note that you can't buy gift cards, marketplace items, subscriptions, pre-orders, memberships, and certain other products with Bitcoin - though you can receive full refunds (subject to Newegg's return policy) in store credit.
6. DISH Network
DISH Network has been accepting Bitcoin payments for its satellite TV and content services since mid-2014. The company appears to genuinely support Bitcoin's mission - it ran a heartwarming feature on the first DISH customers to pay their bill with Bitcoin, and hosts a nice novice-friendly tip sheet for first-time users. Like many vendors, DISH uses Coinbase to accept payments - so, if you're a DISH customer, it's worth creating a Coinbase account if you haven't already.
Online retail giant Rakuten is an enthusiastic Bitcoin booster. Back in 2015, it ran an eye-popping discount for Bitcoin users: 30% off anything on the site.
Unfortunately, that deal appears to be gone for the time being. But Rakuten made waves this July when it announced its intent to purchase BitNet, its preferred Bitcoin payment processor. (We wrote about the news here.) The deal is still under negotiation, and its precise implications remain unclear; however, it's rumored that Rakuten could use BitNet's assets to launch an innovative Blockchain-based loyalty program - a first in the online retail world.
In other words, even if Rakuten doesn't revive that awesome 30% discount for Bitcoin users, its loyal Bitcoin customers may nevertheless have something to smile about soon.
TigerDirect is another online electronics retailer who appear to have gone all-in on Bitcoin - and that bet appears to have paid off many times over. Through the first 18 months of Bitcoin acceptance, nearly half of all Bitcoin-using TigerDirect customers were first-timers, according to Bitcoin Magazine.
With an extensive Bitcoin help section, TigerDirect is among the friendliest for Bitcoin novices. You have three options to pay with Bitcoin: Click the "Pay with Bitcoin" button and follow the prompts, scan the QR code with your smartphone to pay directly with your mobile wallet, or click "View Address" and copy-paste the URL into your desktop wallet. All Bitcoin payments run through BitPay.
Notably, TigerDirect allows partial Bitcoin payments when you don't have enough Bitcoin to complete a full transaction. You can make up any difference via PayPal, credit or debit card, or any other TigerDirect-accepted method. Though Bitcoin transactions are final, TigerDirect does offer refunds (subject to its return policy) in dollar-denominated gift cards.
Not a fan of Expedia, or just want to keep your travel booking options open? CheapAir is among the Internet's most Bitcoin-friendly travel booking portals, and the first portal to adopt Bitcoin back in late 2013. As an early adopter, CheapAir quickly became a favorite of Bitcoin enthusiasts, notching some $1.5 million in Bitcoin bookings in the first seven months, per a company press release. Today, it actually goes a couple of steps further by accepting Litecoin and Dogecoin as well.
CheapAir's Bitcoin payment process is seamless and straightforward - literally two clicks and you're done. Payments are funneled through Coinbase. Fees are far lower than those associated with PayPal, which CheapAir also accepts.
10. Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings play in one of the United States' smallest professional sports markets, and they consistently dwell at the bottom of the NBA standings. (There's always next year!) But, back in 2014, they did notch a notable first when they became the first major U.S. sports club to accept Bitcoin.
According to ESPN, the Kings' embrace of Bitcoin was at least partially driven by necessity. "When I sold the NBA on keeping the team in Sacramento, my pitch included using the sports franchise as a social network to push the technology envelope," said Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive. "[Accepting Bitcoin] is an example of that."
Ranadive's ultimate goal is a "ticketless, cashless environment" at games - a major convenience for fans who don't want to bring their wallets to games. His example appears to be catching on with other sports franchises too. A few months after the Kings' announcement, Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes announced they'd accept Bitcoin.
It's fair to say that Bitcoin has not lived up to the rosy predictions of its most dedicated boosters. Any impartial observer would agree that Bitcoin has suffered some temporary setbacks on the winding path it has taken to get where it is today. No doubt further setbacks lie ahead.
But Bitcoin's emergence and rise have nonetheless been impressive. Even if the early years haven't been as smooth as proponents would like, Bitcoin's continued existence - and, as indicated by the growing number of major vendors that accept it, momentum - is evidence of real hunger for an alternative to government-controlled fiat currencies whose values turn on bureaucratic whims. That's why it's not at all controversial to predict that, in the months and years to come, more online vendors will step up and begin accepting Bitcoin. Stay tuned for our next "top 10 Bitcoin vendors" list.
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- by Brad Pannell