Bitcoin has been a hot topic lately and some vendors are offering customers the ability to pay using bitcoin.

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Not to get into the legitimacy issue of bitcoin, is providing bitcoin as an alternative payment method a plus for user experience on an e-commerce site? I'd like to know the UX impact both from the shoppers' perspective and vendor's perspective.

  • Considering how many people has enough bitcoins to pay for anything, I'd say that is not relevant at all from the business perspective. But, it's great to promote the system and make it more wide spread. Unless, of course, that you are in a niche area, where there are lots of users with bitcoins, then, it's great since all that work is going to be used to actually acquire something. – PatomaS Feb 28 '14 at 2:19
  • It's a plus if your users use bitcoin (in other words, to answer this question, we'd need to know a lot more about your site and your customers). Also, in terms of UX, the legitimacy of the currency (either real or perceived) can make a rather large impact. – DA01 Mar 4 '14 at 3:43

In some ways, taking Bitcoin is similar to taking any other additional currency, with most of the real differences happening on the back end.

The first (and most obvious) UX change is the pricing. Do items get priced in multiple currencies? Or are they all priced in the vendor's native currency and the total presented in multiple currencies at payment time? Does the user set their currency somehow and it just carries through?

If pricing everything in multiple currencies, then the system has to be clear in differentiating the various prices. It's important here that there's no chance of the user becoming confused as to the cost of an item.

At payment time it's again important to insure that the user knows what currency is in play, and what their payment options are for that currency. Then there's the issue of the Bitcoin payment flow - it's nothing like a CC transaction. You'll generate an address to send the Bitcoins to, then you'll have to wait for the user to send them. There will need to be timeouts, etc to make sure that the user doesn't sit around for days before completing the transaction.

Once you've taken a payment in Bitcoin there's further user experience issues with making sure you've actually got the payment before you ship product - confirmation email timing vs. receiving appropriate confirmations of the transaction, vs when to send the order to the warehouse to ship, etc, all play into the total transaction experience. The process needs to keep the user informed while making sure that the vendor doesn't get shafted.

As to the vendor side of things: Bitcoin is a whole other currency (a highly volatile one) which presents similar accounting issues to any business that deals in multiple currencies.

Among other things, if the vendor is paying for product in native currency, then taking payment in Bitcoins, it's important that the vendor have some good way to deal with the exchange rates.

Whether to change the prices on the fly is part of that, but also the vendor has to decide when to move money between currencies and whether to try to make a little extra by carefully timing their transactions (playing the market), or whether to simply move all Bitcoin to native currency ASAP, so that they lessen their exposure.

  • Sounds like a logistical nightmare. – Chairman Meow Feb 28 '14 at 16:51
  • @ChairmanMeow - taking multiple currencies is definitely a logistical and accounting nightmare, even when the currencies are pretty stable relative to one another. That's why a lot of businesses, even if they ship worldwide, like to price in their native currency. – Michael Kohne Feb 28 '14 at 17:33

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