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Plug and Play’s CEO Corner: Judd Ferrer, Sparkle


Plug and Play helps bring together retailers and startups who offer specific technology and expertise that can relieve their pain points. In each issue of our Customer Disruption e-newsletter, we will provide you a brief Q&A with the CEO of a Plug and Play startup, explaining how their company assists retailers in succeeding in today’s disruptive customer environment.

This week’s CEO Corner features three questions with Judd Ferrer, CEO of Sparkle.

What does your company do?

Sparkle bridges the gap between e-commerce and physical retail point-of-sale (POS).

How do retailers leverage your solution?

Sparkle has developed The App Store for POS, a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) that enables retailers to connect their physical POS systems into the omnichannel digital marketplace without the need for integration or changes to the POS software.

Once deployed into a retailer, our PaaS platform creates an open framework upon which the retailer and /or other third-party vendors can "app" their solution into the POS. This provides the retailer with a whole new capability by being able to quickly innovate. In a matter of weeks, they can now conduct A/B testing of their own or other parties’ apps, continually iterate and update apps just like their digital counterparts, and unify their e-commerce, mobile and physical platforms for a single view and enhanced experience for the customer.

The other big benefit for the retailer is that they can mix and match to identify the right channels to communicate with their customers and migrate them to digital at their own speed. The possibilities for what the App Store for POS can deliver for retailers is only limited by their imagination. Already we are working with some of our retail customers to turn tweets into a discount offer at the physical checkout, tagging, showcasing, tracking and rewarding social commerce such as sharing photos online of products through to the physical checkout. We are also developing the ability for retailers to recruit new customers through enabling their most loyal customers to issue discount/coupon codes to their friends, which can be all tracked when redeemed in store, individually as a coupon issuer. This is all done with complete accountability and control both online and in-store.

What is your background as CEO and/or what led to the development of the company?

I have more than 15 years’ experience in developing retail technology for CPG, in-store retail and consumer marketing. Sparkle co-founder Mark Brighton and I focused on rationalzing the outdated processes associated with paper coupons using cloud technology for mining transactional data. As Sparkle got closer to bringing its product to market, we discovered a completely overlooked subtlety that meant having to integrate with each retailer's POS.

Mark and I looked at the implications of this setback given the length, cost and competitive intensity for a company to make it on to a retailers POS change request roadmap process. Our conclusion was that unless we could find a way around having to integrate, Sparkle was finished as a business, as the cost and timing of getting to scale would take too long. So we had to tackle head-on the process of developing a method for getting around the need for integration.

We looked at what, in essence, happens during a transaction, as this is where the need for integration often arises. What we realized was that as with e-commerce, mobile commerce and any other form of transaction was that it was about the management of different code variants. The issue is that the ecosystem of the digital world uses codes such as tweets, hashtags, NFC and QR codes, while the physical would uses EAN barcodes and now the GS1 databar, so they are by nature incompatible both in structure, and in the devices that use them, such as a mobile phone compared to say a 10-year-old POS system, which are themselves not designed to communicate with each other.

The result is our App Store for POS that puts a retailer’s POS at the heart of an omnichannel strategy rather then what is often the case, where e-commerce and physical retail operate as separate business units. Sparkle's App Store for POS brings all of the richness and functionality of e-commerce directly into the point of sale without the need for any integration.

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Editor’s Note: Sparkle will be attending the Plug and Play Fall Expo 2014 at Plug and Play’s campus in Sunnyvale, California on Thursday, Sept. 18 from 9:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. PDT. Plug and Play’s quarterly pitch competition event will feature 40-plus startup pitches, panel discussions and corporate networking. In addition, Chain Store Age will be in attendance and we hope to see you there!

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