Though cryptocurrency is a new form of internet money, most people first hear about it as a form of investment. With their focus on price and volatility, they overlook the goods and services you can pay for directly using crypto. There are also a growing number of hybrid crypto debit cards backed by the likes of Visa and Mastercard, which mean you can enjoy the best of both worlds - using traditional means to spend your new money. While crypto tokens have their own ecosystems which is where they are intended to be spent.
For any new idea to flourish it has to solve a problem. The goods and services which accept or utilise crypto directly generally have a problem that crypto solves. Let’s look at them.
One of the biggest use cases for cryptocurrency is sending money overseas aka remittance. Existing services are slow and expensive, often requiring physical collection, which is inconvenient and dangerous.
Most commonly people working abroad use crypto to send money back home to their family, but it’s a great way to pay international friends, services or as a gift. They just need to download a free crypto wallet to access the funds.
The global average cost of sending $200 in the first quarter of 2020 as reported by the World Bank
As remittance isn’t generally time sensitive, bitcoin's confirmation time isn’t a barrier, while its store of value qualities make it more attractive than weak local currencies.
One of the first large scale uses of bitcoin was in Darknet markets such as the Silk Road. Used in conjunction with Tor browsers - which hide location - Bitcoin enabled the sale of illicit goods and services. The original Silk Road was shut down in 2013 and its founder, Ross Ulbricht, given a life sentence with no parole, but several similar sites have replaced it utilising more privacy focused cryptocurrencies like Minero or Zcash.
Learn Crypto doesn’t support the use of Darnket sites, but they represent an important step in the evolution and usage of cryptocurrency. They provided a clear use for a censorship resistant monetary system with in-built privacy.
The payment process is one of the biggest choke points for gambling sites, from both the player and provider perspective. Many banks and card services won’t allow use with gambling sites - especially due to geographic restrictions - and those that do are expensive.
Some users of gambling sites don’t want their activity reflected on bank or card statements or find the process of adding payment methods tedious. Cryptocurrency fixes all these problems and was the first use case for Bitcoin through the site Satoshidice.
Gambling with cryptocurrency is arguably one of the largest growth sectors of the ecosystem with sites like Sportsbet.io putting the bitcoin logo in front of a global audience via the shirt sponsorship of Premier League team, Southampton.
In a very similar way to gambling, adult sites pay a premium for payment services, or find them blocked in their jurisdiction, and where available want to avoid the sites appearing on their statements.
Pornhub have been very open about their use of cryptocurrency, as reported by Coindesk.
As you can see from the early use cases cryptocurrency has been adopted by industries that are considered risky by traditional financial institutions and therefore charge a premium for servicing payments, or are subject to geographic restriction.
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are borderless and permissionless solving the specific payment problem, though this doesn’t mean the user can avoid any relevant laws.
Outside of these industries there some mainstream brands that have taken the leap and accept crypto directly. Tesla was one of the biggest names on that list until it changed its mind, removing Bitcoin as a payment method in May, 2021.
You can’t use cryptocurrency directly on Amazon, but you can use an intermediary service called Purse.io, that has created an interesting work around.
If you want to buy something on Amazon at a discount, and are prepare to pay in crypto, Purse will connect you with people who are happy to accept that discount on Amazon gift cards - getting crypto in return - to fulfil the order on your behalf.
You can actually spend crypto anywhere that accepts Visa and Mastercard, as there are a growing number of providers that issue a debit cards which spend a crypto balance
Though crypto is often described as a challenge to existing payment systems, you can actually spend crypto anywhere that accepts Visa and Mastercard, as there are a growing number of providers that issue a debit cards which spend a crypto balance, exchanging it to fiat at the point of sale. Here are some examples:
Other services work like a regular debit or prepaid card, giving you cash back in crypto on regular Visa purchases. Crypto.com is one of the leading examples of this, with rewards paid their own token - CRO.
Be aware that many of these debit card services face long waiting times for issuing cards.
You’ll also have to ‘stake’ crypto upfront, like a bond to give you access to the card features. That can lose value, the same as any cash-back earned.
If the card is pre-paid, you’ll need to top it up regularly, which can be a bit of a pain.
Bitcoin has proven an effective store of value, but it isn’t suited to small, time sensitive transactions. The Lightning Network, however, can enable fast and instant transactions, utilising Bitcoin blockchain. You can see the growing list of sites that accept Lighting here.
We’ve a separate articles on how to use the Lightning Network and how it solves Bitcoin’s scaling issue.
Some cryptocurrencies are created specifically as payment within a specific blockchain system - these are called Tokens.
A good way to understand tokens is to think of going to a Theme Park where you have to purchase special tokens to go on the rides, and the tokens aren't intended to be used elsewhere.
Crypto tokens are more complex, because many people buy them for future value, rather than going on the rides, and they also give the holder certain privileges, like the right to vote on changes to the way the blockchain works. But in short, owning a token means you have the opportunity to spend it within its own ecosystem, which you may not have already considered.
Ethereum is the most obvious example in that it powers a huge range of applications from DEFI, to NFTs. They all use its computational power to run Smart Contracts - the logic behind them - which charge a few denominated in something called Gas, bit paid for in Ethereum.
You can also use tokens directly within the services built on Ethereum, or other blockchains. As these ecosystems grow, this way of spending crypto directly will become more common place.
Non Fungible Tokens are one of the most popular new crypto use cases. They are unique tokens that represent ownership of a digital or physical item, the most common examples being art, songs, or sports media. This means that buying art, music, attending a gig or game, or getting exclusive access to events can all be bought via NFTs using your crypto.
Here's a list of NFT marketplaces:
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