Surrey’s adopting Bitcoin, one shop at a time

SURREY — How would you like to pay for that?

Debit, credit or Bitcoin?

It’s a question shoppers at a few spots in Surrey will be asked after two local shops brought in Bitcoin payment last week – the SFU Surrey bookstore and Waves Coffee House in Whalley next to Gateway SkyTrain.

SFU is the first Canadian university to accept the cryptocurrency as payment in its bookstores. It is also the first to install Bitcoin vending machines campus-wide.

Michael Yeung founded the SFU Bitcoin club in 2013. He said there are a lot of students on campus who have Bitcoin and know quite a bit about it.

"This kind of brings them out of hiding," he said, adding Bitcoin will benefit SFU as well. "It will help bring (SFU) to the forefront of cutting-edge technology."

So if someone walked into the bookstore and purchased Bitcoin, they could instantly spend it for goods, but would it end up costing more or less than paying cash?

"It depends on the market," said Yeung. "It could go up in the next hour or it could go down. It’s kind of like the U.S. dollar. But in the last six months it’s been really stable."

Mark McLaughlin, SFU’s executive director of ancillary services, said it’s not really about Bitcoin, it’s about the dialogue.

"We want students to try it out, talk about it, learn about it and kick the tires, so to speak, and then they can form their own opinions."

Whalley coffee shop Waves launched Bitcoin payment and installed an ATM on May 29. Several of the company’s Vancouver locations already do the same.

Drew Glover is co-founder of BitNational, a Calgary-based company that operates Bitcoin ATMs. They have nine in Canada. The company helped launch the cryptocurrency at the Surrey Waves and Glover said Bitcoin has been gaining legitimacy in recent years as the New York Stock Exchange and others have jumped into the mix.

Glover has recently helped introduce Bitcoin at several Waves locations and said he’s shocked at the type of people who are interested in the digital currency.

"I’ve seen people in their 40s and 50s come up and ask about it. They say now it’s in their face so now they want to learn about it."

Launched in 2009, Bitcoin is a digital currency not controlled by any centralized bank or government.

As with any currency, Bitcoin’s value is determined by the number of people willing to value it. As more businesses begin to accept it, the value is expected to go up. As of May 29, one Bitcoin equals $295.24 Canadian.

Surrey’s Erik Seiz is starting a Bitcoin company called BitTag, it’s essentially a loyalty system.

"When you purchase things and you get points, those points go into an auction site where they’re instantly redeemed for Bitcoin, where anyone can purchase them at whatever per cent," Seiz said.

"So say you buy a coffee, you get two points, and those points might be worth 10 cents apiece if you were to redeem them at that local coffee shop. They go onto the exchange where they can be purchased for 90 per cent of their value. So someone else can now buy your points. So it becomes a duplication of Google’s ad model but with Bitcoin."

Seiz expects the company will launch within the year.

"So if we’ve got SFU, then we’ve got a place for points to exist, it feeds an ecosystem. So stuff like this creates an incubator," said Seiz. "It lets anyone get a little Bitcoin and creates the foundation of users needed for Surrey entrepreneurs and businesses to introduce new services to them."

With files from Christopher Poon