Cash Goes Online

Posted by: Rob Hof on September 12, 2005

For all of e-commerce’s success, there’s one corner of conventional commerce it hasn’t managed to touch: the cash economy. On Tuesday, Amazon.com and Coinstar hope to start changing all that.

They’re announcing a new program that lets customers take their loose change and bills and exchange them for gift certificates they can redeem at Amazon. Coinstar is the operator of those green machines at supermarkets, drugstores, and other locations that take change and pay for products in the store or convert the cash into stored-value cards that can be used at chains such as Starbucks and Hollywood Video. Now, Amazon is joining the party.

With the Amazon deal, customers won’t have to pay the usual 8.9% exchange fee, so the whole value goes into the certificate, which has a code that can be used immediately on Amazon. The Amazon certificates will be available at 3,500 machines nationally, expanding to 5,000 by year-end.

“There’s a real opportunity here to make cash a viable form of payment for e-commerce,” Coinstar vice-president of new business innovation Peter Rowan told me. And not the least, it might provide a way for folks who are still leery of using credit cards online a way to buy online or simply don’t have them.

To be honest, I’m not sure how much of the $10.9 billion in loose change out there in the U.S. will find its way out of penny jars and from under couch cushions. But it sounds like an innovative way to tap into a clientele that has to date been forgotten by the e-commerce revolution.

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Reader Comments

Mary-Ann Horley

September 13, 2005 03:35 PM

Any idea if it's going to be rolled out to other countries as well?

Rob Hof

September 13, 2005 08:16 PM

Mary-Ann:
There are no plans that I'm aware of to roll it out outside the U.S.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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