Bitcoin is an online currency in crisis. The major U.S. exchange, Mt. Gox, is still working to get back online after a hacking attack over the weekend; it’s carefully verifying each account before allowing them back in, and only 10% of accounts have been restored thus far. But if you’re thinking of getting into bitcoin, it’s worth taking a look at what kind of vendors are accepting this newfangled currency to begin with.
Bitcoin became somewhat infamous earlier this month because it’s the currency used on Silk Road, an anonymous marketplace for selling illegal drugs. But bitcoin, as its enthusiasts will quickly remind you, has plenty of uses in the legitimate market as well. The official bitcoin wiki has the most comprehensive list of goods and services that can be purchased with bitcoins.
However, browsing through the list of companies accepting bitcoins shows a lot of shops serving quirky and niche interests, or hard-core techie services and gear. And most of these merchants are accepting standard currencies as well, and often using bitcoins actually involves extra steps like e-mailing the proprietor of the store. So unless you strongly value anonymity, or have an ideological desire to use a peer-to-peer “nationless” currency, the advantages of using bitcoin for an average internet shopper isn’t that clear.
Services. The bitcoin market for services, especially tech services, is much more robust than the market for products. If you want to hire a small web designer, there are dozens that accept bitcoins; and other virtual services, like web hosting, SEO marketing, and even VoIP phone service can be paid for with bitcoin.
Techie gear. When it comes to tech products, you shouldn’t necessarily count on using bitcoins to buy yourself a new iPod or big-screen TV. But if your interests run more to used game consoles, electronic cigarettes, cell phone jammers, or discounted Cisco transceivers, you’re in luck!
Other products. You’ll have to have similarly unusual interests if you want to spend your bitcoin on more everyday physical stuff-music, household goods, pet products, and whatnot-because many of the shops are small one-man shops, and serve niche interests. For example, one of the music vendors, Video Seconds is a used music store that currently has 5 CD’s and 12 DVD’s available for purchase; many musicians simply accept bitcoin donations, including Apeiron Restraint, an “anti-fascist, pro-reason metal band.” Online clothing store Square Wear offers T-shirts espousing geek pride, including several that mention bitcoins. Other shops include a pet wear store, and many small shops selling handmade items.
Other vendors include small coffee and tea vendors; a body oil and jewelry shop called Shaman Scents (which also takes payment in silver); stuffed animals from Switzerland; a Polish car accessory shop; and an Oakland, Calif. printing shop.
At least one “daily deal” site has been set up that takes bitcoin exclusively, btcdeals.com. Today it’s offering a standalone BitTorrent downloader for 2.88 BTC (about $50 at the Mt. Gox pre-crash rate).
In other words, you aren’t exactly going to be able to walk into Banana Republic anytime soon and spend your bitcoins. But if your interests run more towards alpaca-wool socks, created on a family farm in Massachusetts, you’re in good shape!
Many of the providers are clearly bitcoin enthusiasts. “I find Bitcoin absolutely fascinating and I’ve made my first small steps accepting payments, so that I can help support the economy in my own little way,” writes Judit, the Hungarian proprietor of online pet-wear shop The Critter Casual who offers a 10% discount to anyone using the currency. “I love living in the future!”