Victoria retailer Hemp & Co. dabbles in virtual currency Bitcoin

Virtual currency Bitcoin has found another actual home in Victoria as retailer Hemp & Co. is now accepting the online money at its bricks-and-mortar and online stores.

Hemp & Co. is starting to make a name for itself by making bold moves to win new customers. It was the first Canadian retailer to adopt Victoria-developed technology LimeSpot to transform its Facebook page into a commerce-ready site. It’s also been dabbling with Bitcoin for two months in the stores, but only recently adapted its website to take it.

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“It was one of our customers who is involved in Bitcoin who suggested it, and I liked it,” said owner Bill Finley. “It’s an alternative thing that I think a lot of people in the world are doing and it doesn’t affect our business negatively in any sense I can see, so why not. It’s another offer for our customers.”

Finley, whose company does about five per cent of its sales online, couldn’t say what impact taking Bitcoin could have, but he suspects once the online world hears the company offers the payment option they could see traffic increase.

So far Hemp and Co. have completed two Bitcoin transactions. “But we have had people come in saying ‘oh, you take Bitcoin, I’ll have to come back’ so there is interest out there,” said Finley. “My sense is there is more people out there that use it than we have using it in Victoria. I think there may be many people wondering where they can spend it if they have it.”

Finley hopes as a relatively early adopter of Bitcoin he may be able to generate some traffic to his site and his stores.

At this point, if a customer wants to use Bitcoin at Hemp & Co., they check the exchange rate for Bitcoin to Canadian currency at the point of sale. On Thursday, Bitcoin was trading at $160 CDN, according to online exchange Mt. Gox. A QR code at the point of sale is scanned by the customer’s smartphone and a transaction removes Bitcoin from the customer’s virtual wallet and transfers it into Hemp & Co.’s account.

Finley said as a retailer he can immediately sell the Bitcoin online at no cost, and he has a standing offer from a customer willing to buy whatever Bitcoins he gets. For now, he intends to hold onto them to see what happens with the currency.

“With my research there doesn’t look to be anything that can bite me, especially if I by and sell it immediately,” he said. “Where it could be a problem is if I decide to hold on and lose because of its [exchange rate] or it may dissolve. But from what I read, the one thing is it isn’t going away.”

But Bitcoin has proven to be volatile, and the currency recently saw its value cut by a third shortly after the much-publicized bust of the Silk Road website, a marketplace for a variety of illegal goods that could be purchased with Bitcoin. The price has since recovered.

Bitcoin, which has been hailed as a promising form of electronic cash free from central bankers, has existed online since 2009 but only recently has come into mainstream use.

The total value of Bitcoins now tops $2 billion.

Victoria restaurant Cabin 12 likes to call itself the first "bricks and mortar" business in the city to accept Bitcoin to pay for meals. The restaurant has been accepting Bitcoin payments since February.

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