A few months ago, I wrote that we’re “still a long ways off from digital currencies being part of the daily routine at the coffee shop, grocery store, or drive-thru.”
But we weren’t that far off, it seems. This week, a company called Flexa announced it has teamed with the Winklevoss-owned digital currency company Gemini to enable bitcoin payments at major retailers like Whole Foods, Jamba Juice, Nordstrom, and GameStop.
To use the tech to pay for groceries, coffee, and other daily items, you download Flexa’s app, called Spedn. Spedn is built to work with the digital scanners most of these big retailers use for scanning Apple Pay or Google Wallet apps. Flexa has worked with retailers to configure those scanners to recognize cryptocurrencies.
That’s all on the backend, however. As my former Gigaom colleague Jeff John Roberts points out, the store cashier “will typically be unaware the customer is paying with crypto, while the merchant receives a real-time payment in the form of their choosing (crypto or dollars).”
Flexa, which will also work at Barnes and Noble, Petco, Lowe’s, and a handful of other stores, will allow users to spend a few different types of digital currencies: bitcoin, bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, and Gemini Dollar, which is pegged to the U.S. dollar and can, according to the Winkelvoss twins, mitigate some of the volatility around cryptocurrencies.
Keeping that volatility at bay will be important when it comes to enabling users to spend cryptocurrencies on everyday items like milk, laundry detergent, and coffee. Crypto’s fluctuating value is, as Roberts said, “fine for an investment but not for a day-to-day payment tool.” And even if the backend tech behind the Flexa-Gemini deal stabilizes the currency, we’ll still have to see if everyday users are willing to forgo their credit cards and Apple Pay in favor of a currency that tends to attract cybercriminals.
The Flexa app will be available on iOS this week for those attending crypto conference Consensus 2019. Post conference, Flexa will become available to the general public.