Who accepts cryptocurrency? Whole Foods, Bed Bath & Beyond and Ulta among retailers

By Sarah Min

/ MoneyWatch

Fancy spending bitcoin for your morning cup of joe or dinnertime groceries? In a considerable shift toward consumer usability, Americans can soon use cryptocurrency to pay for purchases at major retailers like Whole Foods and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Global payments network Flexa in its launch Monday announced partnerships with 15 retailers to accept cryptocurrency payments. Among the accepted currencies for shoppers who have the SPEDN app are bitcoin, bitcoin cash, ether and Gemini dollars.

Other retailers accepting cryptocurrency-based payments include Barnes & Noble, Baskin Robbins, Crate & Barrel, Express, GameStop, Lowe's, Nordstrom, Regal Cinemas and Ulta. The SPEDN app is so far limited to attendees of the Consensus cryptocurrency conference, but it will become more widely available by invitation in Apple's App Store next week.

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Shoppers at participating retailers can load their digital assets into the SPEDN wallet and scan the app's barcode at checkout. Flexa converts the cryptocurrency to U.S. dollars for the merchant.

"This is the first real instance of decentralized global retail payments, with the power to make commerce more efficient and accessible for billions of citizens globally," Flexa co-founder and CEO Tyler Spalding Flexa said in a statement. Founded in 2018, Flexa in April raised $14.1 million in funding prior to its launch.

Enter the "stablecoin"

Flexa also announced it's partnering with virtual currency exchange Gemini to provide custodian services for its assets. The crypto startup, founded by bitcoin millionaires the Winklevoss twins, markets its Gemini dollar as a "stablecoin." That's a general term for digital assets that are pinned to a fiat currency like the U.S. dollar. Gemini dollars are insured through the New York Department of Financial Services.

While cryptocurrency supporters argue for the widespread use of digital assets, saying they make transactions inexpensive, private and fraud-resistant, cryptocurrency has yet to break through to the mainstream.

Aside from the lack of consumer understanding, cryptocurrency valuations are often volatile, making them difficult to use for everyday transactions. For example, at the height of the bitcoin bubble, the price of that digital currency skyrocketed past $19,500 before losing more than 80 percent of its value in 2018, making bitcoin an asset crash for the record books.

While cryptocurrency experts turn to stablecoins as a way to make the digital currency market more consistent, critics say stablecoins have historically failed and may not be redeemable for the promised amount.

First published on May 13, 2019 / 5:52 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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