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Overstock.com (NASDAQ: OSTK ) has found a way to safely swim in the same waters as retailing's biggest shark. The company, whose e-commerce website focuses on discounted brands, unbranded goods, and closeout items, separated itself from the pack and carved a niche that even the industry's 800-pound gorilla hasn't seemed to crush. Overstock.com's recent success is a combination of specialization, marketing, and most recently, strategic partnerships.
The latest news from Overstock is its acceptance of Bitcoin -- the controversial crypto-currency that can't seem to get enough press (if the currency fails, it will have at least put food on the table for thousands of bloggers and journalists). While the ultimate success of the integration won't be determined for some time, Overstock immediately benefited from its decision.
For one thing, Overstock is the first Internet retailer to accept the currency. This is a very symbiotic relationship with Bitcoin, as it gives Overstock the image of being more forward-thinking and technologically advanced than Amazon, and it gives Bitcoin a feather in its cap as a legitimate form of payment. Overstock has effectively forced other retailers to open their doors (or, at least, strongly consider it) to Bitcoin, but only as followers of Overstock's lead. The company benefits from Bitcoin's near-endless news cycle. Now, as the first big retailer to step up, analysts and consumers alike will be itching to see who these Bitcoin holders are, and what they are buying. Even though it's an effectively anonymous currency, companies will still have plenty of data to digest from purchases made with the techno-dollars.
While this is genius PR, it could be a catch-22 for Overstock, if it then had to hold on to Bitcoin and endure the volatility that its early adopters so enjoy. The company will accept Bitcoin in lieu of traditional currency, but that doesn't mean it's hoarding the stuff.
Overstock's partner on this is Coinbase, which allows the company to do an instant exchange from Bitcoin into dollars. Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne is a self-declared "true believer" in Bitcoin, but he and his team obviously understand that it is not yet a desirable asset for a publicly traded company (unless you are a Winklevoss and starting a publicly traded Bitcoin ETF). With zero regulatory infrastructure and wildly fluctuating value, it just doesn't make sense for Overstock to hold on to Bitcoin for more than a nanosecond.
Cash, at least in the foreseeable future, will remain king.
So what Overstock has done is benefit from all of the noise surrounding Bitcoin, and immediately mitigate the risk of actually dealing with it. Your move, Amazon.
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