As of 2018, online shoppers can purchase high-quality cotton tee-shirts with the words "I Accept Bitcoin" on Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), but they are still not allowed to pay for the shirt with actual bitcoin. Despite being the world's most famous digital currency, bitcoin has failed to crack into Amazon, the world's largest retailer, though the company is considered by some to be the golden goose that might bring bitcoin usage to the mainstream. This has been a particularly hot topic ever since early 2014, when Overstock.com Inc. (NASDAQ: OSTK) earned praise from the tech community for making the decision to accept bitcoin.
Why Amazon Does Not Accept Bitcoin
There are a lot of theories about why Amazon refuses to accept cryptocurrencies. The price of bitcoin is more volatile than the price of many other government currencies accepted by Amazon, so there could be some challenge in pricing products. The uncertainty about future cryptocurrency regulation might also scare the ecommerce giant, as might the difficulty processing returns considering Bitcoin's wild price fluctuations.
It is possible that Amazon already has great deals in place with major credit card companies, such as VISA Inc. (NYSE: V), and other payment processors. Smaller online retailers don't get such favorable conditions, which creates a competitive advantage for Amazon. Bitcoin, in an effort to grow, already allows small web shops to accept payments at low costs, which means Amazon couldn't realize the same kind of advantage with bitcoin.
One cynical theory is that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is not a fan of Bitcoin, possibly because he is opposed to the unregulated and anonymous nature of the technology. This theory gained some traction after the Washington Post, a newspaper that Bezos owns, published a particularly critical article in January 2016 entitled, "R.I.P., Bitcoin. It's time to move on." However, this theory is purely speculative.
Another theory is that Amazon would like to eventually roll out its own digital currency. If that were the case, Amazon does not want to lend credibility or open up its huge market to a future competitor. Amazon already launched Amazon Coins in 2013 for game, app and in-app purchases.
Might Amazon Ever Accept Bitcoin?
In April 2014, Amazon indicated that it would not accept bitcoin because "we're not hearing from customers that it's right for them." Ostensibly, this means Amazon might accept bitcoin if it becomes more widely used. Since wide usage relies on wide acceptance, Bitcoin finds itself in a catch-22. If another major corporation such as PayPal Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: PYPL), eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY) or Walmart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) starts accepting bitcoin, that might put pressure on Amazon and Bezos to keep up with the times.
In 2017 and 2018, Amazon again fueled speculation that it was about to accept bitcoin when it purchased several cryptocurrency-related domain names, and also when an Amazon subsidiary purchased a streaming data marketplace that cites bitcoin use as a case study in its patent.
There are no official estimates for the number of regular bitcoin users in the world, but few estimates put it higher than one million. Until that number rises, there is not much reason for Amazon to devote resources to implement a bitcoin feature.
How to Make Amazon Purchases Using Bitcoin
Even though Amazon does not accept bitcoin, it does accept gift cards. The Amazon digital gift cards act just like U.S. dollars and can be applied to all product purchases, and some gift card hubs, such as eGifter.com, Gyft Inc. and RewardsPay Inc., let you pay for their digital cards with bitcoin. This process adds a small step and expense, but it is the quickest workaround in lieu of a direct Amazon option.
Tyler Roye, CEO of eGifter, told Forbes during a 2014 interview that he knew people were paying using bitcoin, and that they were buying specific amounts for single purchases. "The real opportunity with digital gift cards," he added, is "you don't have to buy more than you need, down to the penny."