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The blockchain retail revolution picks up pace

Talk of blockchain in retail has thus far been dominated by the cryptocurrencies rollercoaster. In 2014, Overstock became the first major retailer to accept Bitcoin. More recently it announced an integration with instant digital asset exchange, ShapeShift, that allows customers to use all the major cryptocurrencies, including Ethereum, Litecoin, Dash, Monero and Bitcoin Cash, to purchase items. 

The revolution has thus far, however, failed to materialise, although a number of pureplays and independents have jumped onboard. Greenwich Village, New York restaurant, Pokee, announced in May that it was accepting Ethereum, OmiseGo and IOSToken, alongside cash, cheques and cards. 

Owner, Sa Wang, comments: “Cryptocurrency users tend to be young, technologically savvy and fairly wealthy. They also have consistently demonstrated consumer loyalty to merchants that work to support cryptocurrencies. Not only are we able to save money by avoiding credit card fees, we are also able to market to an increasing population of passionate consumers. It’s a win-win and I’m surprised more restaurants haven’t made the option available.”

It isn’t a huge surprise, though, when even major investors like James Breyer, founder and CEO of venture capital firm, Breyer Capital, admit: “Until 2017 cryptocurrency was at best considered niche and, in many cases, viewed with suspicion and disdain. Today much of this uncertainty lingers and, I must add, for good reason. After all many crypto companies, compared to traditional tech companies, lack focus. Valuations still, even post hype-cycle, are too high considering present-day use cases. And everyone is still learning, even the most knowledgeable people in the space.”

Blockchain barriers

Blockchain’s critics argue that it is nebulous technology; there is no real substance to the solutions being produced, and that cryptocurrencies are simply get rich quick schemes with extra math. 

Blockchain eCommerce payments and ID platform, Nuggets, recently joined JD.com’s AI Catapult Accelerator (AICA). The Chinese online retailer has been increasing its involvement in blockchain over the last couple of years, through both internal operations and external partnerships. And in 2017, its logistics arm became the first Chinese member of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), alongside the likes of FedEx.

Alastair Johnson, CEO and founder of Nuggets, disagrees with the naysayers. “There’s certainly a lot of hype around the tech, and granted, there are some situations in which it’s being marketed where it’s probably not needed,” he states. “To outright call it nebulous technology, though, would be blatantly false when we’re already beginning to see use cases materialise that solve real problems.”

Signet Jewelers, for instance, has joined De Beers Group’s blockchain platform Tracr. This is currently in pilot phase with the aim of creating a tamper-proof, immutable record of a diamond’s journey throughout the full value chain. The platform is being developed by De Beers Group with support from BCG Digital Ventures and is expected to launch later this year. 

In May, De Beers Group announced an industry first, successfully tracking 100 high-value diamonds along the value chain on Tracr.

Virginia C Drosos, CEO, Signet Jewelers, comments: “We are joining the pilot because we believe the project not only has strong potential to facilitate increased transparency and confidence within the industry, but it can also foster much-needed digital transformation.”

“To outright call it nebulous technology, though, would be blatantly false when we’re already beginning to see use cases materialise that solve real problems"Alastair Johnson, CEO of Nuggets

Non-profit organisation The Poseidon Foundation has launched a blockchain-powered platform that connects consumers to their own carbon footprint. A pilot is currently underway at Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop in Wardour Street, London. For every scoop of ice cream sold, the company is contributing towards carbon credits from a forest conservation project in Peru. 

Chris Gale, head of Ben & Jerry’s Social Mission Europe, comments: “We want to use every part of our business to support a transition to a low carbon economy, including putting an internal price on carbon and setting ourselves ambitious targets to reduce our absolute carbon emissions by 80% by 2020. We are excited by the opportunity Poseidon Foundation’s new technology brings as an approach that connects fans to climate action.”

Whilst accusations of ‘all hype, no substance’ continue to loom large, blockchain is without doubt emerging as an exciting new development across the retail sector. “I’m sure that, as time goes on, we’ll see a lot more innovative solutions being deployed in the arena,” Nuggets’ Johnson concludes.