Elon Musk made waves in early 2021 when he announced that Tesla was buying $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin and accepting the world’s most popular cryptocurrency as payment for its vehicles — yet another first for Musk in the auto industry.
The revolution was short-lived.
What is often left out of the discussion about bitcoin is how terrible it is for the environment. The powerful, specialized computers that are needed to mine bitcoin gobble up enormous amounts of energy, which is why most of it is mined in China, where electricity is dirt cheap and regulations are lax. Tesla — a company whose entire brand is rooted in sustainable energy — dropped its bitcoin bid about three months later. Musk cited environmental concerns and the huge volume of fossil fuels that must be burned to produce a single coin. On May 12, 2021, Musk’s mea culpa wiped $365 billion from the cryptocurrency market in a single day.
But not all companies share Musk’s concern with green energy. Bitcoin is big and getting bigger, with some of the biggest corporations in America jumping on the bandwagon and accepting bitcoin as payment. Here are the top 10 players in the game.
Microsoft became an early adopter of bitcoin in 2014 when it began accepting the cryptocurrency as payment to buy games, apps and other digital content in the Microsoft Store for platforms like Windows Phone and Xbox.
Bitcoin was still largely unknown in 2014, and many of those who were familiar heard about it for all the wrong reasons. It was a year of drama and scandal, with the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, collapsing into bankruptcy after a flurry of frauds, hacks and incidents that saw hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bitcoins lost.
At that time, a bar in New York City accepted bitcoin, so did a few car services and restaurants, but very few other major companies to speak of — except for two.
If anyone was going to beat Microsoft to the punch, it makes sense that it would be the company that blazed the trail for modern digital payments. Microsoft began accepting bitcoin in December 2014 — three months after PayPal got on board in September.
Back then, bitcoin was trading as XBT instead of BTC. As a testament to how unfamiliar the concept was then, CNN described bitcoin as “an independent, government-less currency.” PayPal’s move was intended to draw businesses, not consumers, to its platform. The draw was that bitcoin’s transaction fees were far lower than the profit-killing 2%-3% charge that businesses were paying for credit card transactions.
Whereas the initial foray into cryptocurrency allowed merchants to accept bitcoin payments from customers, PayPal has only recently allowed customers to check out with crypto in the same way they do with other payment methods, using the PayPal wallet. “Checkout with Crypto” automatically converts cryptocurrency to fiat currency with no integrations or extra fees required by the business, according to a press release PayPal issued last March. Transactions occur using U.S. dollars.
Before PayPal and Microsoft went crypto, Overstock.com was blazing the trail that those giants would follow. As early as 2018, CNN was reporting that Overstock was “basically a crypto company now,” an exaggeration based on the online retailer’s heavy investment in blockchain technology.
By that time — before COVID-19 boosted Overstock to its current status as one of the hottest e-commerce platforms in the world — it was already a bitcoin veteran. In January 2014 — a full nine months before PayPal took the plunge and nearly a year before Microsoft — Overstock became the first major retailer to accept bitcoin as payment, although it doesn’t yet accept bitcoin on its mobile site. Note, however, that the only payment methods you can use in combination with bitcoin are Overstock gift cards, store credit, Club O rewards and coupons.
In May 2019, a cryptocurrency dam broke when a payments startup called Flexa joined forces with Gemini, a digital currency company owned by the Facebook-famous Winklevoss twins. The partnership’s platform allowed big retailers to incorporate Flexa into the digital scanners they were already using to accept phone-based payments through Apple Pay and other digital wallets. The technology instantly converted bitcoins into dollars for seamless purchases. One of the first of those big retailers to adopt the technology was Whole Foods.
Whole Foods is owned by Amazon, but Amazon itself does not, as of now, accept bitcoin for purchases made through the world’s largest online retailer. Not directly, at least. You can purchase or redeem an Amazon gift card with a wallet like BitPay along with a Coinbase account. You use the account to fund the wallet, and then use the wallet to buy or spend your gift card.
Etsy itself doesn’t have a platform for accepting bitcoin as payment sitewide, but the independent sellers who populate its platform can accept cryptocurrency in their individual shops if they choose to employ a workaround. It’s up to the seller to add an “other” payment method option at checkout. When buyers click that option, they’ll be able to message the buyer with their payment preferences — bitcoin, in this case. The seller then responds with a bitcoin address to complete the transaction.
The Etsy Community forum has a special page dedicated to bitcoin, with tutorials that explain how sellers can advertise that they accept bitcoin and how to make the process go smoothly. There’s also a “Bitcoin Accepted” page on the Etsy site that makes it easy for buyers to find bitcoin-friendly merchants.
In March 2020, just as masks began covering faces across America and the world, Starbucks announced it was joining the bitcoin revolution — kind of.
Like Etsy, Starbucks dipped its toes in the water instead of diving right into accepting cryptocurrency as cash. You can’t pay for your frappuccinos with bitcoin at the register, but you can add bitcoin — along with things like gift card balances and frequent-flyer miles — to the Starbucks app and pay that way. The upgrade was made possible by a third-party digital wallet app called Bakkt that converts bitcoin to dollars to make payments not just possible, but instantaneous.
Online electronics giant Newegg accepts bitcoin — and it has gone all in. Unlike some of the others that require you to convert cryptocurrency to cash through an app or third-party service, Newegg just lets you pay outright. For shoppers who are buying through a computer, all they have to do is choose “Pay With Bitcoin” and go through the motions of shipping. For shoppers making purchases with their phones, Newegg will send a QR code to scan.
For anyone who’s looking to get started harvesting bitcoins on their own, Newegg also sells cryptocurrency mining starter kits.
Home Depot, too, is using the Winklevoss/Flexa system — the same one that allowed Whole Foods to accept bitcoin through its own digital scanners without investing in new hardware.
Retailers have to submit balance sheets in dollars no matter what form of payment they accept, which was long a big stumbling block for companies that wanted to accept bitcoin but didn’t know how. Flexa converts bitcoin to dollars instantaneously, which gives both parties what they want. The buyer gets to spend their bitcoins when they buy their paint and Ryobi tools, and Home Depot gets the green dollars they require in exchange.
Japanese cash-back/shopping site Rakuten began letting users choose bitcoin as a payment option in 2015. As part of a global bitcoin rollout, the company started with Rakuten.com in the U.S. before expanding the new service to its counterparts in Germany and Austria. Rakuten made it possible by integrating the Bitnet payment processing platform into its own marketplaces.
It has since developed Rakuten Wallet, which offers a spot trading service and also supports altcoins like bitcoin cash and ethereum. Users can now charge their Rakuten Cash balance using crypto assets.
Twitch is the 800-pound gorilla on the streaming video platform block. Like Whole Foods, Twitch is owned by Amazon. Also like Whole Foods, it now accepts cryptocurrency — and not just bitcoin. Users can pay in bitcoin, but also bitcoin cash and ether, as well as lesser-used coins like BUSD, PAX, GUSD, USDC and XRP.
Twitch was one of the earliest adopters of cryptocurrency, adding it as a payment option in 2014. That ended in 2019, when Twitch quietly removed its bitcoin service. In June 2020, however, Twitch brought that capability back, to the delight of its crypto-conscious users.
CheapAir.com customers could use bitcoin to pay for flights as early as 2013. These days, you can use bitcoin to pay CheapAir.com directly for both hotels and airfare over the btc network, or you can pay with a number of other cryptocurrencies using a compatible wallet. CheapAir.com accepts bitcoin, bitcoin cash, ethereum, dogecoin, gemini, USD coin, paxos standard, BUSD, dai and wrapped BTC, according to its website.
In a massive push to join the 21st century, AMC Theatres began accepting not just Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPal payments, but cryptocurrency payments as well — at least for online purchases. Theatergoers can pay using bitcoin, ethereum, bitcoin cash and litecoin, according to a tweet from AMC CEO Adam Aron.
AT&T was the first major mobile carrier in the U.S. to accept bitcoin. Although you can’t make direct payments, you can pay your bill through BitPay. Just select BitPay as your payment option when you log into your account from a computer or from the myAT&T app.
Dish also uses BitPay to process payments. It made the switch in 2018, allowing customers to pay in bitcoin or bitcoin cash for the first time. You can use either cryptocurrency to make one-time payments on MyDish.com or using the Hopper DVR, but you have to use the exact amount needed to pay your bill.
Daria Uhlig contributed to the reporting for this article.
This article has been updated with additional reporting since its original publication. Information is accurate as of April 21, 2022.