Just a few years ago, cryptocurrencies were just a niche preoccupation for a relatively small subset of digitally minded tech enthusiasts. They discussed the potential of digital currency in online discussion boards, and they performed kitschy stunts like tragically spending 10,000 Bitcoins on two pizzas.
Today, things look a lot different. The crypto ecosystem vastly expanded beyond Bitcoin, and it now includes hundreds of alternative currencies that range from the highly practical (Ether) to the semi-ridiculous (Dogecoin). Most importantly, these digital currencies are increasingly extremely valuable. According to data compiled by CoinMarketCap, cryptocurrencies have a cap that exceeds $400 billion and has, at times, stretched almost as high as $850 billion.
What’s more, their popularity and mindshare steadily increase in conjunction with their value. In 2016, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on e-commerce trends, and they found that, although a majority of Americans were aware of Bitcoin, only 1% ever actually owned or used the digital currency. Today, those numbers are much higher. Close 8% or 16.3 million Americans are actively using Bitcoin.
Cryptocurrencies have never been more popular or more valuable, but for the millions of people who own them, they run into a surprising problem. They don’t have a lot of ways to use them.
The Problem of Usability
For many people, purchasing a cryptocurrency is more about investing in a commodity than attaining digital money. Although this violates the spirit of Satoshi Nakamoto’s original vision for Bitcoin, these investors can be forgiven for their investment prowess. The internet is replete with stories of newly minted crypto millionaires who invested small amounts of money and saw their acquisition increase by hundreds or even thousands of percent.
However, many cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, are indented to facilitate digital transactions, and that’s a lot easier said than done. Sure, consumers can make purchases at Overstock.com, but there are otherwise very few options for actually spending digital currency. Even Overstock.com seems to acknowledge this problem since they keep as an investment half of the Bitcoin they receive from customers.
Before Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are received as a legitimate currency, they need broader and more effective ways to be usable in the digital bazaar.
Blockchain Problems. Blockchain Solutions.
Using a cryptocurrency exchange to translate cryptocurrency into fiat money is a solution that makes crypto more usable. Unfortunately, this process is not time or cost effective. It can take several days for these exchanges to execute, and they are accompanied by fees that diminish the value of the cryptocurrency.
Fortunately, the blockchain and the platforms that develop on top of its technology are providing solutions to this problem. So far, the primary resolution is in the form of gift card exchanges that allow cryptocurrency holders to purchase retail gift cards. Although this is still a workaround, the blockchain’s most lauded features help ensure that crypto users maintain the value of their currency and can use their gift cards promptly.
For example, Zeex is a blockchain-based marketplace where users can purchase retail gift cards using cryptocurrency. The 350 brands featured on their market are significantly more than the small handful of companies that accept Bitcoin at checkout. In this way, Bitcoin becomes usable by exchanging it for corporate currency in the form of gift cards. In doing so, digital currency owners can maintain privacy and security while also gaining access to a more usable product.
Several other companies including eGifter and GiftToken offer similar products but in a more limited capacity. They accept Bitcoin in exchange for a selection of gift cards, and, in doing so, they make cryptocurrency usable again.
As cryptocurrencies continue to proliferate and become more popular, direct payment solutions will help them achieve their original goal of facilitating decentralized p2p transactions. Until then, there are ways for crypto investors to use their currency. By taking advantage of blockchain-based gift card marketplaces, crypto investors can use their holdings to make tangible, real-world purchases. In short, they return the currency dynamic to the crypto ecosystem.