Japanese retailers to accept bitcoin payments

Two Japanese retail groups are about to start accepting bitcoin payments, a move that is likely to promote wider use of the virtual currency by domestic consumers.

Electronics chain Bic Camera has teamed up with Tokyo-based BitFlyer, which runs the largest Japanese bitcoin exchange, for a trial run of the payment system at Bic Camera’s flagship shop in Tokyo’s Yurakucho district, and at Bicqlo Bic Camera, the hybrid outlet with Uniqlo in Shinjuku.

Customers can pay up to ¥100,000 (US$900) using the cryptocurrency, as well as earn reward points at the same rate as for cash payments. Bic Camera may roll out the payment system to other locations depending on its support.

Meanwhile, Recruit Lifestyle, the retail support arm of human resources conglomerate Recruit Holdings, is partnering with another Tokyo bitcoin exchange company, Coincheck. The virtual currency will become a payment option at shops with the AirRegi POS app developed by Recruit Lifestyle.

By using tablets or other devices provided by the store, or their own smartphone, customers can deduct the amount on the bill from the designated bitcoin account. Coincheck will convert the bitcoins into yen and transfer the funds to the store.

AirRegi is used at 260,000 eateries and other retail locations throughout Japan. Businesses can choose to install the bitcoin payment system alone.

The app is also compatible with Alipay, the payment platform developed by Alibaba Group and used by many Chinese tourists visiting Japan.

Only about 4500 stores in Japan accept bitcoin payments. Rakuten’s Edy and Suica are leading electronic payment methods in Japan. The addition of AirRegi and Bic Camera outlets will multiply the number of bitcoin-compatible stores to around 260,000, nearing the 380,000 outlets that accept Suica and the 470,000 locations where Edy can be used.

More than 20 million people worldwide use bitcoin, with the monthly trading volume reaching ¥12 trillion. But more than 80 per cent of users are in North America and Europe. Bitcoin has mainly been traded for investment purposes because its value fluctuates, but it is also increasingly used by overseas travellers as it saves them the need to exchange currencies.

Japan has just started classifying virtual currency as a payment method, and cryptocurrency exchanges must register with the government. From July, purchases of virtual currency will be exempt from consumption tax.

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