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As Consumers Turn to Bitcoin, Will Merchants Follow?

As crypto on-ramps enjoy massive volumes onboarding new users, will these users become HODLers of last resort or spenders of their new internet money?

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Key Takeaways

  • The market crash last month exposed retail's interest in getting a slice of the speculative pie.
  • On-ramps around the ecosystem boasted high volumes as users converted fiat to crypto.
  • Merchant adoption of Bitcoin, however, has lagged mostly because the market views digital assets as speculative instruments.

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Due to the latest market volatility in crypto markets, many Bitcoin exchanges and fiat on-ramps have experienced high volumes. 

Critically, new users have made up the bulk of this volume. But beyond speculating on top coins, what else will these budding enthusiasts be able to do with their digital assets?

Bitcoin On-Ramps Boom

Various crypto wallets, exchanges, and fiat on-ramps have all reported tremendous volumes over the past few weeks. For those unaware, the price of Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency, dropped from $7,900 to $3,800 in just a few hours on Mar. 12.

In the wake of the crash, Coinbase, a top American crypto platform for new users, broke various traffic and volume records as users either fled positions or bought the dip. Over the 48 hours during the crash and bottom, the firm reported $2 billion in transactions

Other top exchanges like OKEx and Binance also recorded substantial volumes. 

Source: BitMEX

After exchanges, fiat-to-crypto services like MoonPay enjoyed an uptick in volume. Ivan Soto-Wright, MoonPay’s founder and CEO, told Crypto Briefing that:

“Total retail volumes across MoonPay and our network of partner exchanges, wallets, and decentralized applications are up over 80% month-to-month as of the end of March.”

The white-label solution allows anyone within the crypto ecosystem to equip a fiat on-ramp. Notable partners include KyberSwapZenGoEdgeCoinPaprika, and many others. As part of the latest rise in activity, MoonPay is also adding new members to its team. 

On Apr. 9, the team announced the inclusion of Nils Puhlman, the former chief trust and security officer of cloud services platform, Twilio. Puhlman will serve as a security advisor for MoonPay to help boost the team’s security measures as they grow.

The team has turned its attention to security since MoonPay’s involvement in IOTA’s latest Trinity Wallet breach. 

High volumes on Coinbase and MoonPay indicate that the crypto community offers much in the way of turning boring fiat into shiny internet money. 

On making it easy to onboard new users, Soto-Wright said:

“MoonPay is targeted at first-time users of crypto of all ages and geographies. Our mission is to make cryptocurrencies accessible to a wider audience, and that starts with simplifying the user journey.”

But after onboarding this demographic, getting new users to spend their Bitcoin at various merchants is proving much more difficult.

Encouraging Point of Sale Adoption

With only a few exceptions, merchant adoption has shown far less promise than user adoption. 

The exception to this, of course, has been unique Bitcoin rewards services like Fold and Lolli. Users shopping at top retailers like Lowe’s and Starbucks can pay in fiat and earn cashback in BTC when using either platform. 

And while the list of merchants who accept crypto grows, sleek point-of-sale infrastructure lags. Breez, a Lightning Network-enabled wallet provider, is trying to change that.

Heat map of merchants in the United States that accept crypto payments. Source: Coinmap.

The team behind Breez released “the first mobile, non-custodial, Lightning-only Point-of-Sale” on Mar. 27. In making Lightning payments easy for merchants, all of the new users who have recently joined crypto will hopefully have new merchants to facilitate spending. 

In a post announcing the development, the team wrote:

“The rise of Lightning will be a combination of citizen-consumers losing patience with fiat, and coffee shops, Ubers, gas/charging stations, and even major online retailers standing ready with an alternative. By giving merchants what they need, we’re giving users what they want.”

But beyond tackling the technical challenges of implementing Lightning at scale, companies like Breez will also be battling Bitcoin’s most unpopular narrative. 

Despite Satoshi Nakamoto’s claims to create a peer-to-peer electronic cash system, many entering the industry view Bitcoin as a purely speculative instrument. Marcus Swanepoel, the CEO of another crypto on-ramp called Lunotold CNBC that the majority of users on his platform are speculators. He said:

“I would put roughly 90% into the category of investments [and] speculation…and another 10% would be for transactions.”

If users don’t view Bitcoin as a means of payment, its no wonder that there are fewer companies building crypto merchant services than those building on-ramps. 

But for an industry that’s barely a decade old, that might be good enough for now.

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