One of the biggest questions looming over Bitcoin, the digital currency generating attention in the tech business, is when big mainstream merchants will begin accepting it.
Overstock.com, the online discount retailer, has an answer: within six months, if all goes as planned.
Patrick Byrne, the company’s chief executive, said Overstock planned to let online shoppers pay for goods with Bitcoin by June. The retailer is evaluating the services of several third-party firms that facilitate Bitcoin transactions, with the goal of selecting one by mid-January.
If Overstock follows through on the plan, it will become the most prominent retailer to embrace Bitcoin, an electronic currency that initially gained notoriety as a form of payment for black-market drug and weapons transactions and as a new craze for currency speculators. Bitcoin has captivated the imaginations of many technology entrepreneurs and investors, who see it as a low-cost payment system that could disrupt established players such as Visa and MasterCard. But while many of them are forming or funding startups to provide different types of Bitcoin services, not many well-known retailers accept it directly.
Byrne’s decision to take Bitcoin as a form of payment is driven by philosophical reasons more than business ones. Byrne finds the limitations of creating bitcoins appealing — there is a finite number of bitcoins that can be made available, and they are released at predetermined pace, unlike traditional government currency.
“You want money to be based on something that no government mandarin can wish into existence with the stroke of a pen,” he said.