[Updated post from April 29, 2021]
Of the buzzwords that are shaping e-commerce, cryptocurrency is surely at the top of the list.
Once a fringe asset only collected by the tech-savvy, the global cryptocurrency market is set to reach $2.9 billion by 2030, a clear sign that digital currencies are approaching more mainstream adoption and usage.
As more everyday activities migrate online, e-commerce holds the key to cryptocurrency being perceived as a useful asset, rather than a passing fad.
As cryptocurrency becomes more widely understood by the average consumer, e-commerce merchants are going to face bigger expectations around use and adoption, whether as a way to purchase goods or engage with loyalty initiatives.
So, what does the future of cryptocurrency hold? Let’s dive in!
Cryptocurrencies are a form of virtual currency that uses a decentralized ledger system to make secure, encrypted transactions between individuals or businesses. It utilizes blockchain technology to validate transactions and verify the ownership of currency in real time. This prevents ‘coins’ or blockchain-based tokens from being duplicated or stolen.
Unlike traditional e-commerce payments, where transactions and data are managed by financial institutions such as banks and card networks, cryptocurrencies are decentralized finance systems that operate via peer-to-peer networks. This brings together thousands of users – all of which have a role in verifying and encrypting new transactions using that digital currency. This makes crypto transactions highly secure and virtually impossible to hack without alerting everyone in the network.
Measuring the size of the cryptocurrency market is tricky since adoption doesn’t move in one direction. According to the Global Crypto Adoption Index, Q2 of 2021 marked the highest level of adoption on record. Since then, the crypto market has been significant fluctuations in ownership level, thanks in part to a tumultuous crypto market and concerns about the overall health of the economy.
During 2022, ownership rates dropped from 33% to 30% percent of U.S. adults, as found by the 2023 Cryptocurrency Adoption and Consumer Sentiment Report. Despite this, consumer awareness of digital currencies and the cryptocurrency sector is at an all-time high, with 60% of the public considering themselves familiar with the concept. This points to significant potential for cryptocurrency usage to grow, especially as the technology becomes more widely in the form of website plugins and open API systems.
Despite the rise of everyday crypto investors and more discussion about the merits of virtual currencies, its use in e-commerce remains limited. The Cryptocurrency Adoption and Consumer Sentiment Report found that just 13% of crypto enthusiasts invested in cryptocurrency to facilitate online purchases, compared with the 38% who did so because they are interested in the technology.
But with e-commerce platforms hard at work removing friction from the customer experience, slow or clunky payment systems are only going to become more evident to consumers. As customer expectations rise for seamless digital shopping, cryptocurrency is set to become more attractive as a technology solution to streamline purchases. Paired with low levels of trust in traditional banks, this sets the scene for a shift in how cryptocurrency is perceived by consumers.
The rationale is simple; the more payment options your e-commerce store offers, the more flexibility you can offer customers. Certain credit and debit card types are not available in all countries, which makes it more difficult to reap the benefits of a global customer base.
Unlike a lot of traditional finance options, cryptocurrency has the advantage of being available globally, thanks to a lack of crypto regulation. If brands are considering expanding into cross-border commerce or working for more overseas suppliers, cryptocurrency is an important consideration.
Although seen as an early adopter of tech, the U.S. is far from being the top country in terms of crypto adoption. In 2022, Vietnam ranked first in the world for cryptocurrency adoption, behind only Nigeria in terms of overall ownership of digital assets, while the U.S. trails in fifth place. This highlights the importance of digital currencies in nations with less secure banking infrastructure, which are often key hubs for manufacturing and suppliers.
Processing traditional payment methods, such as credit cards or contactless payments, require merchants to pay high transaction fees, which can seriously affect your profit margins. While accepting cryptocurrency payments will involve some third parties, cryptocurrencies themselves do not charge fees to be traded back and forth. This means lower prices for your customers if you’re in the position of having to pass on merchant fees.
Because cryptocurrencies use a decentralized ledger system, it’s virtually impossible to reverse or cancel a transaction once it’s been made. This gives both merchants and consumers much greater protection against fraud or theft, which is a growing concern as more shopping activity and transactions take place online. According to research by Paysafe, 59% of consumers are more concerned about fraud now than they were in 2021. Blockchain technology also helps to prevent chargebacks, since consumers can’t just lodge a request with the network to reverse transactions.
Cryptocurrency has far more use cases in e-commerce than just digital currency, where it’s competing with a range of other growing digital payment solutions such as Buy Now, Pay Later, and card-linked programs. The decentralized nature of crypto – as well as its flexibility as an asset – makes it suitable for a range of initiatives that enhance the brand experience and give you a clear point of difference.
Loyalty initiatives are dime-a-dozen in e-commerce, yet many brands struggle to maintain active participation due to low perceptions of value. Flat discounts on orders and birthday gifts lack novelty and are used the world over, meaning there can be little that separates loyalty programs from one another.
Because it leverages blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies offer multiple ways to offer customers secure and unique rewards. The digital ledger organizes your records for you, meaning that loyalty tokens or store credit cannot be lost or stolen. Moreover, this open system helps to promote trust because brands cannot adjust the value of a token or change redemption conditions without the consent of members. With numerous brands changing up reward structures to economize, crypto-based rewards ensure that customers cannot be short-changed and offer a powerful incentive to sign up.
As more brands begin to invest in the metaverse and virtual shopping experiences, cryptocurrency is a useful tool to provide shoppers with incentives to participate and purchase more products. Collectibles and virtual currencies make metaverse activations feel much more tangible, as consumers benefit from engaging with this particular channel.
For example, Puma recently launched the latest version of their metaverse world Black Station, where shoppers can purchase and trade NFTs for physical Puma products including sneakers. These NFTs can be purchased either using cryptocurrency or regular currency, creating a closed loop for crypto enthusiasts to engage with.
Because cryptocurrencies provide highly accurate data records, it has a variety of applications within the manufacturing and fulfillment processes. For example, tokens and serial numbers can be used to track the manufacturing of the products, giving consumers an unprecedented level of transparency into your supply chain. At a time when counterfeit products and unsustainable unethical manufacturing processes are under closer scrutiny, cryptocurrency helps to shield your business from any criminal activity and demonstrate your credentials to customers.
The cryptocurrency has led to a shake-up in the e-commerce sector, with cryptocurrency-only marketplaces such as Purse and Origin Protocol carving out strong niches for themselves. Because these operate off peer-to-peer networks, they offer merchants both security and lower operating costs. With much lower competition than other marketplaces, it’s a great option for those looking to diversify their selling channels and reach other customers.
With major platforms such as Shopify and PayPal now accepting many cryptocurrencies, this is a major sign that cryptocurrency is becoming a viable payment method. However, there are some barriers to the future of cryptocurrency as a mainstream technology.
‘Stable’ and ‘predictable’ are not words that are used to describe the state of the cryptocurrency market. Unstable supply and demand, in addition to high-profile bankruptcies and shifting consumer sentiment, has caused cryptocurrency prices to swing wildly. The digital currency market (composed of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies) dropped by nearly $1.4 trillion in 2022, resulting in significant losses for veteran and inexperienced crypto investors alike.
With this volatility not set to go away anytime soon, it’s not surprising that it’s one of the biggest reasons why consumers are anxious about cryptocurrency. Nearly half of current, past, and never owners of digital currencies cite the unstable value as their biggest concern.
While more consumers than ever before are familiar with the concept of cryptocurrency, this doesn’t mean they are ready to take the plunge into trading it or using it for online transactions. A survey by Visa found that 44% of U.S. adults have not taken any steps to learn about crypto, such as how to purchase it or where they can store it.
Although talked about more widely in popular culture, cryptocurrency investing continues to be a fringe activity with a steep learning curve. Finding trustworthy educational sources can be a challenge, especially when crypto scams and ‘get rich quick’ schemes have become so widespread.
A lack of regulation may have been the appeal for early crypto investors, but this is proving to be a sticking point for consumers at large. While bodies including the Securities and exchange commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have been given greater powers to regulate digital currencies, significant crypto regulation still appears to be some time away. A lack of cryptocurrency regulation is holding back further innovation in the space, as well as making consumers wary of investing while investor protection remains limited.
Ripple (XRP) is a cryptocurrency designed for real-time, cross-border payments and remittances. One of the key features of Ripple that makes it relevant for e-commerce is its focus on partnerships with financial institutions, offering a faster alternative to traditional transfer systems like SWIFT. This makes it a viable solution for e-commerce merchants who are aiming to expand their customer base into new markets and want to offer additional payment options.
A so-called ‘hard fork’ or chain split from the existing Bitcoin system, Bitcoin Cash was launched in 2017 to increase the size of data blocks in the Bitcoin blockchain. This allows it to handle higher numbers of transactions per second, making it more viable to exchange for commodities online. The goal is to create an alternative to digital wallets like PayPal by pushing Bitcoin to behave more as a currency, rather than a digital asset.
In addition to being a decentralized payment system, Ethereum offers alternative uses in e-commerce such as smart contracts and codes which can be built using the blockchain system, ensuring that private information between customers and vendors is held securely and doesn’t involve third parties.
Ether, which is the native cryptocurrency of the Ethereum network, differs from Bitcoin because the total number of ether tokens available is not capped. This makes the Ethereum blockchain much larger than the Bitcoin blockchain and therefore offers more flexibility for cases such as certification or customer profiles.
The WAVES blockchain system allows businesses to create and issue custom crypto tokens that can be exchanged with each other or for other WAVES tokens, as well as fiat currencies like USD and EUR. This makes WAVES tokens ideal for running a loyalty program or launching a crowdfunding campaign by providing more straightforward exchanges.
Widespread acceptance and usage of cryptocurrency in e-commerce is still a long way away. But as consumer knowledge of digital currencies continues to increase, merchants need to keep a close eye on developments in this space. As the retail landscape continues to evolve, many cryptocurrencies offer a practical solution to issues they see in traditional e-commerce, from boring loyalty programs to a lack of payment flexibility – which means major opportunities for early adopters.