1800Flowers.com to accept bitcoin to expand customer outreach
1800Flowers.com’s plan to start accepting bitcoin payments in the fall reflects the retailer’s search for new ways to reach a growing audience whose financial dealings and purchasing increasingly happen in the digital realm, including mobile.
The Carle Place, NY, company will begin accepting the virtual currency through the Coinbase platform already used by Expedia.com, Overstock.com, DISH Network and other brands across its sites, including 1-800-Flowers.com, 1-800-Baskets.com and FruitBouquets.com. The move underscores the marketing buzz the mention of bitcoin can generate even though it is an unofficial currency and considered experimental.
“Any merchant accepting bitcoin today is largely doing so for marketing and branding purposes,” said Jordan McKee, senior analyst, mobile marketing and commerce strategies, with Boston-based Yankee Group.
“Announcing bitcoin acceptance not only translates to free PR, it also promotes a trendy and tech savvy image.”
A spokesman for 1800Flowers.com could not be reached to explain specifically how mobile customers could use the currency to pay for items.
Coinbase is an online platform that allows users to buy bitcoin, store it in a virtual wallet and pay merchants for goods or services with it.
The 1800Flowers.com app makes no mention of the option starting in the fall to pay by bitcoin.
Typically, Web wallets allow consumers to use bitcoin on any browser or mobile. Mobile wallets allow users to exchange bitcoins and pay in physical stores by scanning a QR code or using NFC “tap to pay.”
Bitcoin is riding a wave of media coverage and new users. In October, Coinbase launched an application permitting iPhone users to buy, sell and send bitcoins from their mobile phone. Coinbase had previously launched an app for Android users.
Positioned at the forefront
Including bitcoin among its payment options fits with 1800Flower’s reputation as a marketing innovator. The company, which recognized years ago that mobile would be the way to reach shoppers on the go as smartphones proliferated, made a strong push to be on the forefront of new and emerging technology channels. It launched a BlackBerry downloadable app about six years ago and followed that with iPhone and Android mobile storefronts.
The company’s bitcoin move is bold, given that bitcoin transactions have been slow to win popular acceptance. Critics say its instant transactions are less secure than traditional payment methods, and all transactions are stored publicly and permanently on the network, which means anyone can see the balance and transactions of any bitcoin address.
Yankee Group’s 2013 US Consumer Survey showed that 2 percent of consumers used bitcoin. Sixty percent had heard of it but not used it and 38 percent had never heard of it.
“My hunch is that very few merchants have customers knocking on their door asking for them to start accepting bitcoin, ” Mr. McKee said. “Certainly, it’s early days for this alternative currency as it relates to actual usage.
“But, given high consumer awareness, one can understand why announcing bitcoin acceptance can be a powerful marketing ploy,” he said.
Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.