Unfortunately, Bitcoin is still pretty far away from becoming a universally accepted currency. Alternative cryptocurrencies seem to be even farther away from that point.
It has been a crucial problem for Bitcoin since its very beginning. What good is digital money if you can’t really spend it whenever you want? And the efforts of the community to improve the situation are one of the principal driving forces behind the growing adoption of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
Actually, it used to be even more difficult.
In the earliest days of Bitcoin, when it was barely more than a hobby for a small number of enthusiasts, almost the only way to spend it was through an online forum.
The famous 10,000 BTC pizza deal is a great example – it even has an unofficial holiday named after it. In early 2010, two users agreed upon a deal on the Bitcointalk.org forum in which one would send the other 10,000 Bitcoins, and the other would have two pizzas delivered to him in return.
This is believed to be one of the earliest purchases made with Bitcoins. Obviously, it’s not a way of purchasing that can be reliably replicated by an audience of a large scale.
Around the same time, in 2010, the process became easier with the emergence of many online cryptocurrency exchanges. There, users could, and still can, trade with each other and exchange their coins for fiat money.
This was not a perfect solution, as people lost some money in the process, having to pay the exchange fees. But still, it did provide a readily available way of turning cryptocurrencies into easily spendable regular money.
Another important development took place around 2014 and after when various big companies started accepting Bitcoin directly for some of their goods and services. Dell, Microsoft and Overstock are just a few of those.
It is a gradual process, and the situation improves year by year. We have truly come a long way since the early days of improvised negotiations on Bitcointalk. But there’s still quite a way to go until global adoption.
Currently, there are numerous ways available to pay for something with cryptocurrencies, but they are not ubiquitous.
There are many, many ways to make your Bitcoins spendable today. You can exchange them for fiat money on an online exchange or with other users on a service such as LocalBitcoins and you can purchase products online on websites which accept Bitcoin directly or via the services of a payment processor like BitPay. You can also conduct purchases through plain old forum dealings and there have even been attempts to create point-of-sale terminals for merchants to accept Bitcoins in brick-and-mortar shops.
Some of these solutions are more popular and convenient than others, but none of them can be called universal. You still can’t just waltz into the first shop you see and pay with Bitcoins willy-nilly.