Overstock.com plans to usher Bitcoin into mainstream online retail

Bitcoin appears headed for mainstream online retail, with Overstock.com, one of the largest online-only retail sites, making plans to accept the virtual currency within six months.

The company’s CEO Patrick Byrne told The New York Times that Overstock.com plans to let online shoppers pay for purchases with Bitcoin,  a cybercurrency that is created, distributed and authenticated outside of banks or governments.

Byrne appears to embrace the libertarian values that Bitcoin espouses, and the fact that there is but a finite amount, unlike traditional currency that governments can print at whim.

“You want money to be based on something that no government mandarin can wish into existence with the stroke of a pen,” he told the New York Times.

Other large U.S.-based e-commerce sites are expected to follow Overstock’s lead, and at least one major e-retailer has plans to start accepting Bitcoin soon after the New Year. Already Gyft, a mobile digital gift card app founded in San Francisco, accepts Bitcoin for purchases of Target and Gap gift cards.

If Bitcoin gains widespread use among online shoppers, the next step would be for online payment platforms to also embrace the virtual currency. PayPal executive Mark Lavelle all but dismissed Bitcoins as a near-term PayPal strategy.

“We do things based on what our customers are using,” he recently told this newspaper. “And right now they’re not using Bitcoin.”

But if PayPal’s fast and furious leap into mobile payments over the last year is any indication, the company will follow consumer shopping habits.

While Bitcoin is far from replacing the average consumer’s debit card or PayPal account, it has gained popularity among entrepreneurs for crowdfunding projects and some activist groups that have used the virtual currency to support charitable causes.

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Heather Somerville Heather Somerville (221 Posts)

Heather Somerville is a business reporter covering venture capital and startups for the Bay Area News Group.