The same bulky coin-counting machines that turn spare change into bills can now turn bills into bitcoin, at a price. Coinme, a Seattle-based Bitcoin ATM company, has partnered with Coinstar to enable Bitcoin purchases at grocery stores in California, Texas, and Washington.
Coinstar machines are large coin-cashing kiosks located at grocery stores, drug stores, and other retail locations in the UK, US, Canada, and Ireland. Shoppers frequently use the machines to convert loose change into bills or gift cards. Today, Coinstar operates over 20,000 of these machines across the world.
On Jan. 17th, Coinme, the first state-licensed Bitcoin ATM company in the U.S., announced a partnership with Coinstar to offer bitcoin on the coin-counting kiosks. Users are now able to purchase up to $2,500 worth of bitcoin at these machines at select Safeway and Albertson stores in California, Texas, and Washington. Those who purchase bitcoin at one of these kiosks would receive a voucher that is redeemable for bitcoin on the Coinme website.
The company advertises the plan as the “easiest and most convenient way to buy cryptocurrency with cash,” but opinions may differ.
Steep Fees and Glaring Exceptions
Unfortunately, these Bitcoin ATMs are notorious for their high fees. Each Coinme transaction comes with a 4 percent service fee, not including the trading spread (the difference between the buy and sell price of bitcoin on an exchange), which could make the real cost of buying even higher.
For comparison, Coinbase charges a fee of 1.49 percent. When dealing with several thousand dollar purchases, these fees add up.
Meanwhile, Coinstar has even steeper fees. Customers that want to count their coins are charged a hefty 11.9 percent fee, for a service that many banks provide for free. The most perplexing part of the announcement is that “coins cannot be used for Bitcoin transactions,” a major selling point for customers who would rather turn their spare coins into BTC.
Plans for Expansion
If successful, the company plans to expand to other retailers and locations in the United States. Thousands of these machines could be enabled to facilitate bitcoin transactions. Neil Bergquist, Coinme’s co-founder had this to say about the move:
“We’re excited to team up with Coinstar to give consumers a convenient and easy way to buy Bitcoin during the course of their daily routines. Bitcoin is now accessible at your local grocery store via Coinstar kiosks, and this offering will make it even easier for consumers to participate in this dynamic new economy.”
Meanwhile, according to Coinstar’s CEO Jim Gaherity:
“Coinstar is always looking for new ways to offer value to our consumers when they visit our kiosks, and Coinme’s innovative delivery mechanism along with Coinstar’s flexible platform makes it possible for consumers to easily purchase Bitcoin with cash.”
Maybe with the novelty and hype around bitcoin, people will overlook the fact that they can buy bitcoin much more cheaply elsewhere. But, for people looking to sample the nascent cryptocurrency, this is a great way to get started.