What happened

Shares of online retailer Overstock.com (NASDAQ:OSTK) soared as much as 29.2% higher on Thursday, following the release of results for the third quarter of fiscal year 2017. The company posted lower sales and smaller net losses compared to the year-ago quarter, and CEO Patrick Byrne talked up a storm about the business opportunities he sees in blockchain operations.

So what

Overstock's total sales fell 4% year over year, landing at $424 million. At the same time, gross margins widened from 18.1% to 19.7%. Bottom-line losses stopped at $0.03 per share, a significant improvement over net losses of $0.12 per share in Q3 of 2016.

Both e-commerce retail operations and the Medici segment's blockchain services improved their profitability. Members of the ClubO customer loyalty program accounted for more than 25% of Overstock's retail sales, and the club is signing up new members at a rapid clip.

A steel chain winding away to the horizon. The focus is on one chain link, decked out in large and seemingly random numbers.

Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

In other news, Overstock announced some financial wrangling alongside the earnings report. Warrants convertible into roughly 15% of Overstock's current share count were sold to two private investment firms, George Soros' Quantum Partners being one of these.

As for Medici's blockchain operations, Byrne said that "there may be no better-positioned company for blockchain investments in the world." Through this segment, Overstock has invested in nine different blockchain services ranging from the SettleMint secure voting platform to the PeerNova banking compliance service. The star of the show remains tZERO, a trading and contract settlement service started and majority-owned by Medici.

tZERO is aiming for a so-called ICO, or Initial Coin Offering, perhaps as soon as the end of November. Overstock estimates the initial market value of tZERO at roughly $5 billion, so the company could raise a cool $1 billion of fresh cash by selling down its ownership of the platform by 20%.

If that's too much tech-nerd mumbo jumbo for your tastes, the takeaway in simple English is that Overstock hopes to get a quick $1 billion cash injection and a much larger long-term value out of tZERO. And that's a big reason why shares of this sleepy little online retailer's shares have tripled in six months.

Anders Bylund has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.