- Whole Foods, Bed Bath & Beyond and Nordstrom are among the major retail brands now accepting in-store cryptocurrency payments via a Spedn mobile wallet app that launched Monday, which is built on the global payments network Flexa, according to a report in CBS News.
- Users of Spedn can send their bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, ether and Gemini dollar digital currencies to the app and scan an app barcode in-store to complete a transaction, as Flexa explained in a news release. Flexa then handles converting the cryptocurrencies into U.S. dollars in real-time for the merchant.
- The application is so far limited for use by attendees of Consensus, a cryptocurrency conference, per CBS News. Flexa said Spedn will become broadly available on Apple's App Store next week. Flexa also announced a partnership with Gemini, which claims to be the world's first regulated, dollar-pegged "stablecoin" — a digital token that's attached to a fiat currency, such as the U.S. dollar, to avoid the volatility that frequently rocks other cryptocurrency exchanges.
Blockchain-based technology like cryptocurrencies have been hyped for several years, but concrete applications, particularly for the end consumer, have remained extremely limited. Wild fluctuations in the markets and the prevalence of fraudulent Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) have also made investors and users increasingly wary of sinking too much of their money into a space that promises greater security when it comes to financial transactions, with recent steep declines in value for key players like bitcoin signaling a potential die-off in interest for crypto overall.
Major retailers, which additionally include Lowe's, Regal Cinemas, Ulta and Baskin Robbins, now accepting crypto payments could revitalize digital tokens' bid for mainstream adoption and provide stronger mobile use cases for brands to glom onto as similar methods of conducting transactions in-store, like contactless payments, become popular. Spedn also touts advantages that could be an appealing draw for other businesses, including lower transaction fees and the lack of need to upgrade existing point of sale systems to facilitate the crypto payments.
"This is the first real instance of decentralized global retail payments, with the power to make commerce more efficient and accessible for billions of citizens globally," Tyler Spalding, co-founder and chief executive of Flexa, said in a press statement.
However, a degree of caution from retailers seems to be lingering over the Spedn launch, and the press release announcing the news lists none of the major partners accepting payments through the app. A report in Forbes details how representatives from both Gemini and Flexa were unable to get their clients to confirm their partnerships over email or talk on the record about the news. Forbes followed Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, the twins made famous by "The Social Network" and the owners of Gemini, to a Starbucks location where one of the brothers completed a transaction using Spedn, but had to cover up the coffee chain's logo on the receipt when taking a photograph of it.
Forbes secured receipts that prove the payments are working with other brands like GameStop, Bed Bath & Beyond and Whole Foods. Flexa data shared with the publication suggests that 89% of test users have leveraged Spedn's capabilities with at least one participating retailer.
Retail brands might be careful in officially attaching their names to Spedn's launch because the viability and security of cryptocurrency payments have yet to be proven at scale. But other developments suggest the crypto space could be receiving a second wind, which might be leading more companies to dip their toes back in the water. Facebook recently eased up a previously stringent policy on cryptocurrency ads and is also busy developing its own cryptocurrency-based payments — a potentially significant move as the platform pivots to focusing on private, encrypted messaging.