Bitcoin Bowl Merchants See Tech’s Big Picture, But Few Sales

Pete Rizzo
Jan 2, 2015 at 14:37 UTC
Updated Jan 5, 2015 at 11:36 UTC

bitpay bowl

The Bitcoin St Petersburg Bowl may have given bitcoin a visibility boost on primetime TV, but according to local merchants who participated in its promotion, this attention didn’t always translate into an increase in local sales or customer interest.

As part of our Bitcoin Bowl coverage, CoinDesk surveyed more than 20 St Petersburg merchants about their experience supporting the event, though more were approached for comment. BitPay had said that more than 100 businesses in total signed up to accept bitcoin for the big game.

The poll sought information about the total sales recorded by merchants in and around the event; whether customers inquired about bitcoin; why they participated in the promotion and whether they would recommend it to others and why.

Perhaps most notably, just three of the merchants contacted reported that they saw more than 10 sales before the day of the game. In addition, of those who did see a sales boost during the event weekend, just one indicated a significant number of transactions.

While few merchants reported more than a handful of sales, most seemed optimistic about the technology and its perceived benefits.

More than half (13 respondents), said they would recommend the payment method to another merchant; a further 15 said they found BitPay’s system easy to use.

Most, like Windworks owner Joe Fala, seemed to appreciate the additional sales, even if he only processed three or so transactions in each of his stores before the event, and a similar number during the event weekend.

Fala summed up the mixed view many merchants expressed, stating:

“All in all I was happy with it considering I didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, I had never heard of it, and it doesn’t cost me anything to keep it.”

Overall, the findings suggest that though bitcoin’s core value proposition may be appealing to businesses, a notable number of local merchants are unsure about whether they would proceed with the payment method given the results they reported.

Standout showing for Ferg’s Sports Bar

The big sales winner for the event was perhaps unsurprisingly Ferg’s Sports Bar and Grill, the local pub that played host to the official UCF Tailgate Party, as well as the post-game ESPN VIP tailgate, which was attended by BitPay staff.

Ferg’s reported completing more than 100 sales over the three months before game day, with an undisclosed number completed at the 15 bars operated by the venue to keep up with demand.

Owner Mark Ferguson, who also sits on the bowl game’s official board, lauded the payment option for delivering “a lot” of sales, stating:

“We were surprised by how many people wanted to pay with bitcoin. We think it’s a great concept, and we love it as a merchant. No chargebacks, no transaction fees and you advertise for us. Great!”

Another representative at the company suggested much of this demand may have been from existing bitcoin users, however, not necessarily first-time users.

“Most people who ask us already have bitcoin and are familiar with how it works,” company general manager Peter Hodgdon said. “We wouldn’t be the ones they would ask, they would ask bitcoin about that.”

Expectations influence perception

Others like Carolyn Brayboy, co-owner of Chief’s Creole Cafe, expected a similar boost in business, but did not record any sales before, during or after the game.

“We’re anticipating we’ll be getting some customers coming in and using it,” Brayboy said on the day of the game, adding that she believed bitcoin would help position her business on the “progressive end” of a new technology.

However, game-day came and went without any sales. “I didn’t have anybody call to inquire about it,” Brayboy later said. Still, she is optimistic bitcoin might become a driver of business over time.

Rick Shook of Ricks’ Home Theatre Store was less phased about the lack of immediate return from bitcoin in terms of sales. He acknowledged that as a merchant that specializes in big-ticket items, he participated more as a way to show support for the community.

“It was more about setting it up and it was no cost,” Shook said. “I didn’t expect anything other than that I was supporting the bowl itself and the possibility of a transaction.”

“It’s like no harm, no foul,” he added.

Also of note was that many merchants had only recently begun accepting the payment option.

Some see day-of sales spike

Plain Jane, St PeteSome stores, however, did report a day-of sales boost, suggesting the event did benefit select local merchants.

Plain Jane, a small boutique, began accepting bitcoin two months before the event, recording only two transactions during this time.

That figure doubled over the weekend of the bowl game, owner Tom Shirkey said, but only to a total of four sales.

“It wasn’t a surprise per se, but it was a spike, so I guess it was somewhat expected,” Shirkey said of the results, adding that he has “no complaints” about the service.

Beach Hair Affair and Paper Street Market also reported slight upticks in sales. Craftsman House Gallery and The Edge Lounge and Tapas said weekend sales mirrored those observed in the run-up to the event, with a handful of completed transactions.

Ruffled feathers

Though most merchants were enthusiastic about the technology’s benefits and happy with even a small sales boost, a small number of merchants may have been put off by what they described as BitPay’s overzealous promotion of the event.

One merchant, who wished to be identified only as Ron, indicated that the promise that bitcoin would drive big game-day sales coupled with the lack of returns have lead him to cancel BitPay’s service.

He told CoinDesk:

“I expected something, but we saw nothing. They told me there’d be an influx of people and we saw nothing.”

Leslie Curran, owner of the local fine art shop ARTicles expressed a similar disappointment in her remarks, noting the determination of the BitPay team to enroll new merchants.

“The reason we decided was because they were relentless about coming by and asking if we’d sign up for it, that’s the bottom line,” she said, adding that she liked the concept of a payment option without unnecessary transaction fees.

ARTicles reported no bitcoin sales before, on the day of or after the game.

Advertising and promotion

About one-fifth of the merchants surveyed also expressed some willingness to benefit from the free advertising bitcoin could bring.

Elsewhere, merchants lauded BitPay’s dedication to helping them set up the technology, with a number noting that in-person visits were effective at encouraging them to enroll. Customer demand and the low processing fees for bitcoin payments were also factors for some merchants.

However, a desire to support the event itself was found to be the chief motivating factor.

Matt Bonano, owner of restaurant and imported food dealer Brooklyn South, suggested that for his relatively new restaurant, this was a compelling value proposition. He further expressed only some interest in bitcoin as a payment method, evoking the ‘Why not?’ mentality of many other merchants.

Bonano said:

“The game is called the ‘Bitcoin.com bowl’ or whatever and it’s right across the street, so if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

St Petersburg merchant images via Pete Rizzo; Feature image via Shutterstock

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