Cash Goes Online

Rob Hof

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, 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.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.