There was an air of expectation in November 2015, when Coinbase announced a partnership with Shift Payment to offer Bitcoin users a debit card that would work everywhere Visa is accepted.
“We want to make it easy to buy and sell bitcoin, and we want to make it easy to spend,” Adam White had told Wired, “A mainstream debit card based on bitcoin is a key element.”
Adam White is Coinbase vice president of business development and strategy.
“Anything that makes it easier to buy and spend bitcoins is a good thing — and it is particularly interesting when it comes from a big player like Coinbase,” Techcrunch, another technology company news website had stated of the new service.
Currently, the Shift Visa card is available to Coinbase customers living in one of 25 US states. Some of the states where the service is available include Texas, Washington, New Jersey and California.
So far both Coinbase and Shift Payments have not committed to expanding the service outside of the United States. This hesitation could be tied to the unclear regulatory environment on the use of Bitcoins, and, in this particular case, with Visa-branded debit card, in many jurisdictions around the world.
It is quite a success in two months
Two months down the line, Coinbase has just published a blog post to share the progress of the Shift debit card service with its users, the bitcoin community and, of course, the rest of the world.
“Since launch in November,” the post explains, “over 10,000 people have signed up for the card and spent over $1,000,000 worth of bitcoin.”
An attached graph shows December as the month when the highest amount of Bitcoins was spent through the service. Over $160,000 was paid through the Shift card during the holiday month.
Generally, these figures give an impression of an almost extraordinary uptake. As a matter of fact, the update from Coinbase invites the question of whether a debit card is the killer use case for Bitcoin.
Is it the service that will finally bring Bitcoin to the mainstream?
Not so fast, some in the Bitcoin community have said. “Dude, do the math. That’s $100 per user over a period of two months. This is not going to move any needles,” one Redditor has pointed out.
Nevertheless, it is acknowledgeable that more and more people are getting to know about Bitcoin. The interest is measurable in numbers of wallets and transactions, both of which are climbing each passing day.
Merchants accepting Bitcoin still low
However, even as the ownership of Bitcoin is on the rise, the challenge of where to spend it is not easing proportionally. According to Coindesk’s 2016 State of Bitcoin and Blockchain report, the number of merchants directly accepting bitcoin stands at about 120,000 at the beginning of 2016. This figure is projected to hit 150,000 by the close of the year.
By all standards, this is a drop in the ocean of the global commerce scene.
Therefore, it is left to the payment services in the middle to make it easy to spend bitcoins. Indeed, given the misgivings that the majority of merchants have about accepting Bitcoin, services that do not require them to get involved but let their customers spend the cryptocurrencies are welcome.
Meanwhile, when Shift card launched in November last year, it opened up millions of stores, both online and offline, to Coinbase users.
In a larger scale, when all the merchants accessible through the likes of Shift card, BitPay, Gyft.com and many others, are added together, then Bitcoiners have up to hundreds of millions of places to spend their money.
It is still debatable as to whether the announced success of Shift Visa card points to the fact that it is the service Bitcoin users have been waiting for. However, what is not in doubt is that the service seems to have opened another opportunity door to Bitcoin users in the regions where it is available.