Are C-Stores Ready for Bitcoin ATMs?

It’s more than a matter of foot traffic and public interest

Is the bitcoin ATM (­BTM) the next must-have accessory for convenience stores?

As the machines populate more retail locations, there are certainly reasons to consider it. Take the Quick Stop c-store in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood, for example. The manager there told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he sees a “steady stream” of customers who come in to use the machine daily.

However, foot traffic isn’t the only factor. One of the main concerns with BTMs is the cryptocurrency’s stability. Critics say that while bitcoin’s value has grown, it is likely a bubble due to burst at any time. Fans of the online currency say bitcoin will defy these expectations, in part because the currency is not tied to the government or a central bank. Either way, bitcoin’s recent rise in value has been unusually strong. In 2012, the nontraditional currency sold for about $7 per unit. As of the beginning of April 2018, the currency was hovering above $7,000 per unit, according to Bitcoin.com, which tracks the currency’s value and other stats. And while the currency is undeniably volatile (­the value was $14,718 as recently as Jan. 4), it is still well-known and having a moment in the media, both social and otherwise.

Bitcoin’s rise in worth has coincided with a rise in the number of BTMs dotting the globe. As of Dec. 31, 2015, there were 503 BTMs in the world. Two years later, that number has risen to 2,016 and more than 75% of these devices are located in North America, according to the website Coin ATM Radar, which tracks BTMs.

There are more than 45 BTM manufacturers, but the vast majority of them operate fewer than 10 BTM locations. The frontrunners are Genesis Coin, with 742 locations worldwide, and General Bytes, with 557 locations worldwide, according to Coin ATM Radar.

BTMs operate much the same as conventional ATMs. Instead of swiping a card and entering a personal identification number, BTMs require a phone number or a scan of a driver’s license. The machines typically sell bitcoin at a higher cost than the currency’s worth, normally 10% to 20% above market price.

Due to bitcoin’s high value, most BTM users don’t buy or withdraw an entire bitcoin in one transaction. BTMs can sell for as little as $1 worth of the currency, and it can be divided into fractions as small as 0.00000001.

Will BTMs replace ATMs as the dominant automated teller machine in the United States? Not a chance, at least not anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean it can’t fit in with the rest of the services offered at just about any c-store.

1,222

Number of BTMs installed in the United States

Source: Coin ATM Radar