Coinstar’s big green machines at Connecticut supermarkets where people convert buckets of change into paper bills now offer a new option: Buying cryptocurrency.
Coinstar along with the Seattle-based Coinme digital currency exchange and at least two major grocery chains are making it possible to buy bitcoin throughout the state.
Coinme this spring added bitcoin as a purchase option in Coinstar machines at several Stop & Shop and Big Y supermarkets, and already was operating in more than 90 other communities. Stop & Shops from Greenwich to Stonington and from Canaan to Killingly have the kiosks, with more than a dozen in Greater Hartford alone.
“We see sales continue to grow — people are able to take loose change and turn it in, but there are also people coming in with 20 $50 bills at a time,” Neil Berquist, Coinme’s chief executive officer, said Wednesday. “The average transaction is $500.”
Bitcoin is digital currency that’s popular with speculators. Buyers get a fractional share — since an entire bitcoin is currently valued north of $34,000 — and their purchase becomes part of an online ledger of transactions. Bitcoin isn’t issued or backed by the federal government, but its advocates emphasize that it allows individual to individual transactions without any bank, credit card issuer or other outside party involved.
The price fluctuates sharply: It was over $60,000 in April, and hovered a little over $9,000 just a year ago.
Typical bitcoin customers at kiosks are males over 45 with average incomes in the $50,000 range. They often view bitcoin as an investment tool to save for retirement.
“We see two customer types — the crypto-curious person, who is nontechnical, buys bitcoin to invest and doesn’t want to be left behind. They are the first-time customer,” said Delia Mendoza, Coinme spokeswoman. “The second type is a ‘crypto lifer’ using crypto for payments, remittances and to fund trading accounts.”
There is a 4% fee for purchasing bitcoin at Coinstar kiosks, and the redemption price can be higher or lower depending on the market.
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“People are living multi-currency lives now, they’re not putting 100% into dollars,” said Berquist.
Coinme has nearly 7,000 licensed cash-to-cryptocurrency exchange locations around the country, and he predicts more will be added in Connecticut next year. The state already has 150 kiosks, including locations in Hartford, East Hartford, West Hartford, Simsbury, Wethersfield, Bristol, Bloomfield and elsewhere in Greater Hartford.
Buyers at the kiosk need a mobile phone number and a driver’s license or other official identification. They insert cash and receive a bitcoin voucher on the spot; the value is added into the buyer’s digital bitcoin wallet, and can be transferred to others already enrolled in the system. Unlike Venmo or other online transaction systems, there is no third party involved.
At the Stop & Shop in Simsbury on Wednesday morning, Avon resident Dick Morrissey arrived at the Coinstar machine with two plastic containers full of loose change. He had no interest in the bitcoin option, though; after running the change into the machine, he took vouchers to trade in for cash.
“I’m not involved in that. I just save up some change and bring it in,” Morrissey said.