A lot of the narrative on virtual currency revolves around its yo-yo-ing worth.
Will we see geeks buying more Ferraris if bitcoin breaks back toward US$20,000, or crying into their keyboards if it crashes below US$5000 again?
But to become an enduring currency, it will also have to prove its utility on a meat-and-potatoes level – such as buying everyday stuff.
That goal has got a little bit closer today with a deal that means Australians and New Zealanders can now buy a coke from a vending machine with bitcoin.
It’s thanks to a deal between Auckland startup, Centrapay, part-backed by Crown agency Callaghan Innovation, local virtual wallet company Sylo and Coca-Cola Amatil.
A rep for Centrapay says 600 vending machines nationwide support the bitcoin payments today. They’re the ones with the QR sticker that you scan with your smartphone, after first downloading Sylo’s wallet from Apple or Google’s app store. Y
You just need to hold your phone’s camera over the QR code – as we’re used to now for Covid check-ins. Your Coke is charged at the usual NZ dollar rate, which is then converted to bitcoin and the appropriate amount deducted from your Sylo wallet.
(if Sylo sounds familiar, that’s because it was recently seen on these pages taking on Zoom with its secure video chat app).
“Amatil is ramping that up to 1500 over the next six months,” the rep said.
Bitcoin’s big surge during 2017 saw a number of retailers getting involved, including ISP Slingshot, which introduced the virtual currency as a payment option.
But its 2018 crash, plus the Cryptopia heist that made thousands of out-of-pocket virtual currency holders keenly aware of the drawbacks of a currency not backed by any state, saw interest fade. Slingshot, for example, quietly dropped bitcoin when it upgraded to a new customer portal. The bitcoin-friendly Oyster and Chop on Auckland’s waterfront stands out as an exception, but they hard to find.
Still, the tide could be turning again.
The coke vending machine deal is definitely a coup for Centrapay and its chief executive and major shareholder Jerome Faury – the one-time general manager for Payment Express who now, with his own company, is trying to hook up merchants with virtual currency payment solutions.
Faury says his company has removed the complexity that’s been one barrier to bitcoin’s adoption by retailers.
And he sees opportunity in the pandemic environment.
His company’s solution for Amatil “comes with the added benefit of reducing physical contact and addressing the hygiene concerns we’ve all become acutely aware of due to Covid-19,” he says.
“And now we’ve shown how it can work in Australia and New Zealand, we’re looking to grow the business globally. We’ve established a presence in North America and will be targeting the US market next with some world-first innovations.”