Bitcoin and retail: don’t write off cryptocurrencies just yet

Bitcoin may be attracting a lot of negative press, but the technology behind it – and alternative tokens – could one day have massive impact on retailers.

The debate on the future of bitcoin and retail is building – with some experts now shifting to focus to alternative cryptocurrencies.

Starbucks founder Howard Schultz is one of the latest retail experts to weigh into the discussion. He said during an earnings call on Friday that “one or a few” legitimate cryptocurrencies will emerge – but bitcoin won’t be one of them.

“I don’t believe that bitcoin is going to be a currency today or in the future,” he said.

Asian retailers split

Visitors to Inside Retail Asia’s website seem split over the relevance of bitcoin to retailers, with the results of a long-running online poll showing 30 per cent of about 1400 respondents believe the cryptocurrency should become a payment option for retail transactions; they were split between 14 per cent who believe it should only be used online and 16 per cent opting for both online and offline use. Thirty-two per cent believe bitcoin should not be accepted by retailers.

But the biggest group – 38 per cent said they don’t understand enough about the technology to judge.

Two speakers at Wednesday’s Retail’s Cutting Edge event in Hong Kong will be addressing bitcoin and the blockchain technology behind it. Ross Stokes, board advisor to Gatcoin.io, will be setting out to demystify the concept of tokens and cryptocurrencies and their role in retail.

Stokes believes there is a lot of misunderstanding in the business marketplace – and the broader community – about the concept and purpose of cryptocurrencies, largely due to almost constant coverage of bitcoin’s fluctuating value as an investment.

People have “a general blinkered view of tokens, seeing them through a bitcoin lens,” he says. But he sees huge potential for the concept.

Desmond Marshall, MD of TheFloorHub.com (a global fintech hub for Israel) and founder of Rouge Ventures, will talk at Retail’s Cutting Edge about how new fintech trends will impact retail consumer behaviour, offering insights into blockchain, cryptocurrencies and payments. Marshall is one of the owners of jewellery disruptor Fang Fang Monte Carlo, which is embracing cryptocurrency as a model.

Marshall is now focused on tokenising Fang Fang itself, infusing blockchain technology into the entire company. With this technology at the forefront, the way is paved to hold an ICO (initial coin offering) or ITO (initial token offering) later on for the purposes of funding or financing.

Meanwhile, Starbucks’ Schultz told investors on Friday that he sees potential in blockchain, the online ledger technology underlying digital currencies.

“I’m talking about … the possibility of what could happen — not in the near term, but in a few years from now — with a consumer application in which there’s trust and legitimacy with regard to a digital currency.

“I’m not bringing this up because Starbucks is announcing that we are forming a digital currency or we’re investing in this,” Schultz said. “I’m bringing this up … as we think about the future of our company and the future of consumer behaviour.”

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