It is a testament to the tenacity of bitcoins that the virtual currency has managed to survive the roller coaster it has been riding for the past two years. As Javelin has documented in multiple blogs, the currency has been linked to drug trafficking, been the target of a Trojan virus, had the value of the coins plummet after being hacked by a Hong Kong-based hacker group, had nearly $250,000 worth of bitcoins stolen from the virtual currency exchange Bitfloor, faced direct criticism from the Attorney General and DEA, and was the subject of the FBI’s Intelligence Assessment report. Any one of these catastrophes alone would normally mean the decimation of a fledgling currency, but bitcoins have managed to not only survive, but to increase functionality in the wake of disaster.
Consumers today can now use their bitcoins to make online transactions and have the purchases shipped throughout the globe, using Amazon’s shipping service. BitPay, a company that develops software allowing merchants to accept bitcoins for transactions, recently announced that it had developed a module for the e-commerce platform and shopping cart used for WordPress websites (called “WooCommerce”). Merchants who use WooCommerce and use Fulfilled by Amazon (Amazon’s service which ships merchandise for e-retailers to 65 different countries) can now process bitcoin payments from around the globe. Retailers who use the WooCommerce platform typically process payments using traditional payment cards or PayPal, although bitcoins have been an accepted payment option since November of 2012.
The BitPay module actually streamlines the shopping experience, as the module will automatically send the buyer’s shipping information to Amazon. WooCommerce merchants who accept PayPal currently have to provide the shipping information to Amazon manually when a customer selects PayPal as the payment option. This partnership opens up interesting doors for global e-commerce, as bitcoins can facilitate online retail to individuals in countries where obtaining a traditional payment card or PayPal account is simply not possible. But judging from the brief and harrowing history of bitcoin, it doesn’t seem likely that bitcoins will remain stable long enough to establish a real foothold in the e-commerce world. It will be hard work trying to convince merchants to accept a payment option that has a history of losing value over night.