A Conversation with Ben Kaplan, President and Chief Executive Officer of CashStar

Ben-Kaplan-300We recently interviewed Ben Kaplan, President and Chief Executive Officer of CashStar. In this Q&A format we discussed CashStar’s approach to m-commerce, the adoption of e-gifts, and the B2B market evolution.

Ben Kaplan is the President and CEO of CashStar. He has more than twenty years of experience in senior operations, marketing, and product roles at software, e-commerce, loyalty marketing and payments companies. Most recently, he was Chief Operating Officer at Cartera Commerce, a leading provider of card-linked marketing solutions for merchants, banks, and loyalty programs. Prior to Cartera, Ben was Vice President of Marketing for KNOVA Software and Vice President of Marketing for North Systems. He has also held product marketing and product management positions at Broadbase and Commerce One.

CashStar, the industry-leading provider of closed-loop prepaid commerce solutions, enables the world’s top retailers and restaurants to grow and innovate in the rapidly evolving retail environment. CashStar provides best-in-class capabilities, revenue-optimizing risk management and a client success model based on aligned growth, to optimize digital gifting and prepaid commerce experiences. CashStar powers more than 300 leading brands worldwide including Best Buy, Brookstone, Coach, Crate & Barrel, Dell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Gap, lululemon athletica, Nine West, Office Depot, Petco, Pottery Barn, QVC, Sephora, Staples, Starbucks, The Cheesecake Factory, The Home Depot and Williams-Sonoma.

1.  With all of the activity surrounding mobile payments and commerce, how does CashStar view its market position and opportunity?

The mobile and prepaid commerce space is very dynamic and poised for tremendous growth as technology continues to shape the way brands engage with customers. CashStar’s platform digitizes the gift card and delivers an end-to-end mobile experience through partnerships with digital wallet and mobile payment providers. The growth of m-commerce is really about digitizing payment instruments, and this is precisely the future we envisioned when CashStar’s prepaid commerce platform was built.

We believe that prepaid commerce should be a central tenet to a retailer’s mobile experience and omnichannel strategy, and our customers are turning to us as a partner in marketing to the modern consumer. When prepaid commerce is successfully integrated into the mobile experience, it can reduce payment processing costs, drive engagement, increase redemption and sales and speed up checkout time at the point of sale. Starbucks is a great example of a retailer that has successfully integrated prepaid commerce into its mobile strategy. While they are at the forefront, it’s a repeatable success story.

In 2014, CashStar saw record-setting revenue and the company recently closed $15 million in growth capital, which will enable us to invest in talent to fuel new product innovation, continued client success, and sales.

2.  The gift card product is well-established, but how does CashStar support other use cases for its clients (e.g., promotions, incentives, loyalty programs, etc.)?

Gift cards for gifting is an obvious use case and, as retailers have seen with plastic gift cards, there are many promotional opportunities as well. There are many limitations to plastic gift cards, however, and this is where digital prepaid commerce shines. We’ve started referring to our offering as a strategic platform for “prepaid commerce” vs. “gift cards” because there are so many other use cases beyond gifting and traditional promotions. Coupled with mobile wallets and other emerging technologies, digital prepaid commerce empowers retailers to interact with consumers in ways that plastic could never achieve. Using digital promotions, retailers can track user behavior, incent behavior based on geo-location activities, collect loyalty data and find creative ways to engage with the increasingly mobile-first consumer.

The CashStar Commerce cloud platform offers extensive personalization, digital reload capabilities, and native mobile integration capabilities. CashStar also offers full integration with Google Wallet, enabling brands to offer consumers the ability to easily save their digital gift cards to the mobile wallet, where they can manage them alongside loyalty program cards and offers. In addition to an improved customer experience, the platform reduces costs associated with plastic production and management, making digital prepaid commerce an obvious solution.

3.  What is your general view of the pace of market adoption for e-gift cards and how will mobile wallets influence e-gift activity?

Digital gift cards are poised to help drive mobility, influencing both branded mobile app engagement and mobile wallet/mobile payments adoption. The payments portion of an app or mobile wallet isn’t that interesting on its own, which is why consumer adoption has been slow. The option to pay with a device isn’t that much more convenient than paying with a credit card. But the integration of digital gift cards and loyalty programs into mobile wallets and apps will make these better engagement tools for retailers, while also providing real incentive for consumers. For example, a retailer can use beacon technology to deliver a prepaid commerce offer to a customer on their mobile phone while they’re physically in the store. This type of promotion is a great way to drive increased sales without actually discounting products. Marketers can also collect valuable data on shopper behavior and preferences of those using digital gift cards through mobile wallets.

4.  Is the pace of adoption different when you look at the B2C versus the B2B market segments?

While we have seen significant growth in the B2B market segment, we believe that it is still nascent. The reality is that many of the entrenched players in the B2B space have system and process limitations that need to be resolved. However, we believe that the benefits of going digital speak for themselves and we will continue to see adoption increase in the future. Beyond the super obvious reason, which is cost, we predict that as consumers and B2C retailers become comfortable with digital prepaid commerce the B2B market will follow suit. There are too many market dynamics at play to ignore the need to invest in technology upgrades.  Banks, software companies, cellular networks and hardware providers are all driven to solve the mobile payments challenge. Prepaid commerce is a powerful function in mobile commerce and the B2B market will evolve as well.

5.  Can you speak to the diversity of CashStar’s client base especially those outside of traditional retailers where you play a role in rewards programs, etc.?

When we launched our solution, it was very retailer-centric, designed to help retailers solve consumer commerce and distribution hurdles associated with digital gifts. Over time, we have expanded the platform to encompass B2B programs and incentive marketing programs. The same solutions can easily address a host of challenges across the prepaid space, and we now have nearly 100 partners in our robust distribution network that are using our platform to distribute and manage prepaid instruments for use cases such as point redemption, rewards and incentives. We have also partnered with providers looking to expand into new arenas, such as digital wallets and the ability to reload funds onto existing cards. CashStar is a valuable partner for these providers in solving problems for consumers at interaction and purchase points. As our distribution provider relationships have grown, we have also maintained our great relationships with traditional retail clients. CashStar currently works with more than 300 brands, from J.C. Penney, The Home Depot, Starbucks and The Cheesecake Factory to e-commerce sites like Hotels.com and Spafinder Wellness.

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