Most economic activity with Bitcoin remains on trading exchanges, but lately there is some evidence volume at merchants may be picking up. Bitcoin’s total merchant volume, in dollar terms, was $42.8 million in the week ended May 19, according to the latest figures from Chainalysis Inc., a New York City-based cryptocurrency research firm. That represented the second week in a row volume exceeded $40 million and registered a 50% increase over the first week of the year.
Chainalysis, which tracks merchant volume on both monthly and weekly bases, says the weekly tracking may be a better barometer of actual sentiment among Bitcoin holders and businesses that accept or are considering accepting the digital currency. “While merchant-services activity represents a small portion of Bitcoin economic activity overall, recent data suggests this activity may be rebounding following the 2018 price downturn,” a company spokesperson says in a comment sent to Digital Transactions News.
Bitcoin’s price began rebounding early in April following a mid-November crash that cut the coin’s value in half over the course of the next four weeks. As of mid-morning Tuesday, it was trading at just shy of $8,000, according to CoinDesk. Swings in value affect the value in dollar terms of goods and services bought with Bitcoin, which is notoriously volatile.
The monthly figures for merchant volume also indicate a steady buildup this year so far. The April number, the most recent one available, was $157.5 million, up from $119.5 million in January.
To be sure, these indicators remain tentative and very much tied to Bitcoin’s dollar value on any given day. The Chainalysis numbers indicate there were three months last year, for example, when merchant volume exceeded $200 million. Indeed, volume soared to $469.6 million in November 2017, as Bitcoin’s value was rising toward $20,000 before crashing in December.
Both physical and online merchants accept Bitcoin, and while the number of businesses welcoming the cryptocurrency remains murky, it is a decidedly small contingent worldwide. Some major retailers like Overstock.com have accepted it for years, and last month AT&T Communications said it would become the first mobile carrier to take Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash for bill payments.
The fee users pay to spend Bitcoin, however, has shot up in recent weeks. The median fee stood at $3.44 on Monday, up from 14 cents as recently as late March, according to Bitinfocharts.com. That’s the highest this fee, which miners collect to process transactions, has been since February last year. Some observers fear higher user fees could depress spending and thus discourage acceptance.