The online retailer Overstock.com is accepting bitcoins, making it the first major shopping site to trade in the digital currency.
The decision increases the virtual currency's visibility and raises the stakes for lawmakers and regulators with their eye on it.
"You can now pay for all your favorite products on Overstock.com using Bitcoins!" the company said on its website. "As the first major retailer to accept Bitcoins, Overstock.com is expanding the possibilities of Bitcoin purchases by offering thousands of products to the Bitcoin community."
Bitcoins exist only on the Internet but can be exchanged for cash or used to buy goods and services. Previously, only a relatively small number of mostly independent businesses had accepted the money. Overstock's decision is sure to help propel the cryptocurrency to the mainstream.
Regulators and some in Congress have worried about the anonymous nature of the currency, which might attract money launderers or traffickers of illicit goods. The value of bitcoins have also fluctuated widely in recent months, which has sent prices skyrocketing and raised concerns.
Supporters say bitcoin is easier to use than cash and like that it is not pegged to a central government or dependent on banks.
“We want a money that some government mandarin can’t just whisk into existence with a pen stroke,” Overstock chief executive Patrick Byrne told Wired. “It lets you get out of that world where you have to store your money with institutions you don’t trust.”