UPDATE (16th January 01:18 GMT): Coinplug wishes to clarify to Korean readers that, while users can request to buy bitcoins over-the-counter at 7-11 stores now, the physical okBitcards will be available from the end of February.
South Korean bitcoin services company Coinplug is rolling out a pre-paid bitcoin purchasing service to around 24,000 convenience stores across the country, with 8,000 7-Eleven stores already participating.
The company says its 'okBitcard' service will be on sale in other major chains by the end of January. With those numbers, it will be the most widespread distribution of its kind in the world to date.
Physical cards will be printed at the end of February with fiat values of 10,000, 30,000 and 50,000 South Korean won (approximately $10, $30 and $50). To protect against theft and deal with bitcoin's unpredictable price, the cards are activated only at point-of-sale.
Until the cards are ready, customers may ask cashiers directly to purchase bitcoin at the counter, upon which they can receive a printed receipt with redeemable PIN code.
okBitcard comes hot on the heels of another convenience store-based service in Asia: BitoEX's integration with 5,000 in-store kiosks in Taiwan. By selling physical cards, Coinplug is eliminating the need for customers to learn how to use the kiosks or use SMS messages to authenticate purchases.
Winning over newcomers
's Richard Yun told CoinDesk that the cards make bitcoin easier for the average consumer to buy, potentially winning over newcomers who might find the experience of buying bitcoin through an online exchange or face-to-face daunting.
The process works as follows: A customer purchases a card over the counter and the cashier prints out a receipt with an individual PIN code. The purchaser then redeems the bitcoin using either the okBitcard mobile app or the okBitcard website.
The physical card itself, therefore, represents fiat value only and does not need to carry any bitcoin value. Coinplug's exchange issues the required amount of digital currency when the card is redeemed.
As well as putting bitcoin front and center in mainstream view, the cards are a means of easily acquiring bitcoins in smaller amounts, and of transferring bitcoin value from person to person without needing a wallet or Internet connection.
A video demonstrating how to purchase bitcoins via in-store terminal is below (action begins at 0:30):
Exploring new trends
is also exploring other options in "online-to-offline" (O2O) payments, which Yun believes is part of a world payments trend.
Its Android wallets can now send and receive bitcoin via NFC on compatible devices, rather than with QR codes.
Coinplug is also launching its second locally produced bitcoin ATM, made by bank ATM manufacturer Nautilus Hyosung. The machine will be located in the public foyer of Korea University's computer science department, which held a bitcoin forums for its students in September last year.
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