The grocery retailer piloted the bitcoin payment
system at its Cape Town store in what is described as a world first. Industry
insiders say other retailers should follow suit.
Bitcoin is gaining traction across the world and although not recognised by
financial regulators locally, it is being taken seriously. The South African
Reserve Bank recently established a fintech programme to explore the
implications of virtual currencies and other financial technologies for
financial regulation and activities such as lending and investing.
Pick n Pay deputy CEO Richard van Rensburg said the pilot was “limited
to our canteen store in our head office for a specific period of time and is no
He said: “We don’t expect that in the near term accepting bitcoin
will unlock any significant new business and we are unlikely to roll out the
solution until the payments industry and regulatory authorities have
established a framework for managing the risks associated with
cryptocurrencies. We have proved to ourselves, though, that it is technically
possible to roll out a solution very quickly.”
He said cryptocurrencies were still in “relative infancy” and would
take some time before they become widely accepted as a form of tender.
“Progress is unlikely to be hampered by technology but rather by
regulatory issues and concerns,” Van Rensburg said.
Blockchain Academy MD Sonya Kuhnel said bitcoin created opportunities that
retailers should take advantage of. “It also allows people who do
not necessarily have bank accounts to transact at retailers instead of using
cash. Furthermore, transactions are also not subject to reversals or costly
charge backs,” she said.
Kuhnel said the transaction fee retailers had to pay could range up to 1% on
debit cards and 2% on credit cards. Smaller merchants could pay up to 7% for
“Bitcoin transaction fees are significantly less and if we take the
example of PayFast, one of SA’s payment processing companies, they charge their
merchants a 1.9% transaction fee as compared to 3.5% for debit and credit cards
Bitcoin’s payment system at Pick n Pay operates similarly to a Snapscan or a
Zapper payment, where customers are able to check out items by scanning a QR
code from a smartphone.