EBay's mobile payment unit said it will soon enable merchants to accept payments in bitcoins, making it the latest mainstream company to embrace the upstart digital currency.
Bill Ready, chief executive of EBay's Braintree unit, said at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco that Braintree will begin working to integrate a bitcoin payment option into its software in the coming months.
Braintree, acquired by EBay's PayPal unit last year for $800 million, provides online merchants with the capability to accept credit card and PayPal transactions through their websites and mobile apps. Its clients include rideshare app Uber, house-sharing site Airbnb and online stores like Shopify. The company also owns Venmo, an app that lets users send money to their friends free of charge.
"We're announcing PayPal's first foray into bitcoin," Ready said. "On the consumer side, it will be a sleek experience."
Ready said the company will partner with San Francisco-based Coinbase Inc., a bitcoin processor with 1.6 million "wallets" where consumers store their bitcoin data online. Coinbase provides back-end services for 36,000 merchants globally, including the e-commerce site Overstock.com, which began accepting bitcoins this year.
In a post on Braintree's website, Ready wrote that the integration "will make it seamless for developers and merchants to add bitcoin to their existing payment methods" and will let consumers pay for goods and services with bitcoin from their Coinbase wallets.
Unlike with credit cards, where processors charge a percentage of the transaction and a fixed fee, there are no fixed fees for bitcoin transactions. Coinbase takes a 1% flat transaction fee, but waives that for the first $1 million in bitcoin sales.
Roger Gu, who works in business development at Coinbase, said many smaller merchants are already interested in accepting bitcoin, but are daunted by the technical challenges that go with it. He said once Coinbase is integrated with Braintree, it will allow those merchants to add a bitcoin option to their site with "very little work."
That could boost consumer use of the digital currency, which advocates say works more like a digital form of cash than a credit card and offers greater security against fraud and identity theft.
Gu said "2014 has been a good year for bitcoin," as high-profile brands like Dish Network Corp., Expedia Inc., and Wikimedia Foundation have partnered with the company for processing bitcoin payments.
"We see the potential" for wider use of the alternative currency, Gu said. "We're laying the infrastructure now."