Convenience store chain FamilyMart is now accepting bitcoin at its nearly 3,000 locations in Taiwan after striking a deal in October with local wallet provider BitoEX.
Since the news, FamilyMart has been allowing customers to use bitcoin, through a BitoEX wallet, to buy cash coupons accepted at its stores. The coupons are dispensed by its FamiPort terminals, which are a common payment channel used for everything from paying parking ticket fines or utility bills to buying train or movie tickets.
The move is aimed at visitors to Taiwan and a growing domestic user base, FamilyMart’s public relations manager Chen Chia-Chi told the Taiwanese news agency United Daily News.
Growing user base
According to BitoEX, more than 500 transactions have already been made at FamilyMart stores since the feature was launched on 24th October. The firm also claims that it now has 40,000 web wallet users and a 30% annual growth rate.
“There are more and more users of our bitcoin wallet now, but the market in Taiwan is still small, and it’s still growing,” said Rica Chiang, deputy general manager at BitoEX.
This isn’t the startup’s first deal with FamilyMart. Last October it launched a bitcoin-buying service with the convenience store chain, allowing customers to purchase the digital currency over the counter.
The startup says the success of the bitcoin buying service put the digital currency on FamilyMart’s radar, leading it to consider accepting bitcoin for goods. According to BitoEX, the number of bitcoin purchases at FamilyMart has more than doubled year-on-year.
“Since last year [FamilyMart] saw a growing number of bitcoin sales. That’s why they were cautiously thinking about accepting bitcoin to see if it there’s a bigger market out there,” BitoEX’s Chiang said.
Convenience store chains in Taiwan have been at the forefront of experimentation with e-commerce. They were among the first retailers in Asia to become collection points for goods purchased online, for example.
FamilyMart is Taiwan’s second-largest convenience store chain by number of outlets, coming in behind 7-Eleven, which has about twice the number of stores. Taiwan is one of six international markets that the chain, headquartered in Tokyo, serves.
Gamers flocking to bitcoin
A key segment of BitoEX’s user base is gamers, Chiang said, accounting for 40% of the startup’s customers. They’re buying games or making in-game purchases on international platforms like Steam, Big Fish and PokerStart, Chiang said.
Some gamers don’t have access to a credit card or simply find Taiwan’s ubiquitous convenience stores and their payment terminals to be an easier way to obtain the credit they need. Indeed, payment for games in Taiwan is a subject of discussion on gaming forums.
It’s the gamers who are showing up at FamilyMarts across Taiwan – usually in the middle of the night – to make a quick run for soft drinks or snacks before returning to another marathon session. Sometimes they avail themselves of over-the-counter bitcoin as well, desperate for credit to advance in a game.
“We noticed a lot of transactions taking place in the middle of the night, so we were curious. We found out they were gamers. Sometimes they say, ‘Please give me bitcoin, I’m in a hurry – I’m in the middle of a game!’,” Chiang said.
BitoEX says the next biggest group of its customers are those using bitcoin for remittances, followed by investors and speculators.
The startup uses the mainland China-based exchange OKCoin for its bitcoin rates and liquidity.