PROFILE

James Tenser

Principal, VSN Strategies
James (“Jamie”) Tenser is an analyst and consultant to the retail and consumer products industry. His firm, <b><a href="http://vsnstrategies.com">VSN Strategies</a></b>, focuses on retail technology, merchandising, marketing, consumer behavior, Shopper Media, Category Management, service practices, and all-channel retailing.

He is Executive Director and founding member of the In-Store Implementation Network.

Tenser is considered an authority on retailing, brand marketing, and consumer trends, and is author of two books. He is quoted often in national and international media. He contributes to periodicals such as RetailWire.com, Advertising Age, Progressive Grocer, CPGmatters.com, Supermarket News, and <a class="__cf_email__" href="/cdn-cgi/l/email-protection" data-cfemail="5e133f2c353b2a3730391e0c3b2a3f3732">[email protected]</a><script data-cfhash='f9e31' type="text/javascript">/* <![CDATA[ */!function(t,e,r,n,c,a,p){try{t=document.currentScript||function(){for(t=document.getElementsByTagName('script'),e=t.length;e--;)if(t[e].getAttribute('data-cfhash'))return t[e]}();if(t&&(c=t.previousSibling)){p=t.parentNode;if(a=c.getAttribute('data-cfemail')){for(e='',r='0x'+a.substr(0,2)|0,n=2;a.length-n;n+=2)e+='%'+('0'+('0x'+a.substr(n,2)^r).toString(16)).slice(-2);p.replaceChild(document.createTextNode(decodeURIComponent(e)),c)}p.removeChild(t)}}catch(u){}}()/* ]]> */</script>, and his blog, TensersTirades.com.

Since founding VSN in 1998, he has helped a diverse range of clients with strategy and thought-leadership communications, including: American Express Co., Dial Corporation, Eastman Kodak, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Gourmet Award Foods, IBM Global Services, Cisco Systems, DemandTec, and many others.

Tenser earned his undergraduate degree from Cornell University. He studied Media Ecology at New York University and Consumer Behavior at the University of Arizona’s Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing.

<b><a href="http://vsnstrategies.com">vsnstrategies.com</a></b>
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  • Posted on: 08/17/2017

    Is Walmart on an unstoppable run?

    Walmart is gaining market share online in large measure because it's been buying it through its acquisitions of Jet.com, Bonobos, Moosejaw and others. Rather than allowing its current arch-rival Amazon.com to continue skimming digital sales unchallenged, the Great Wal has made the pragmatic decision to keep up the pressure and make itself more relevant to digital-native shoppers.Meanwhile, it continues to leverage its unmatched physical store presence and expand BOPIS services, almost daring Amazon to try to formulate a competitive response. The Whole Foods deal grabbed big headlines last month, but it's a complex maneuver for Amazon that adds only a sliver of market share.Walmart is not exactly unstoppable -- the scale of its experimentation is likely to result in some significant blunders -- but its strategies look very effective right now. With its huge assets, only Walmart has the clout to sacrifice near-term margins to keep Amazon in check.
  • Posted on: 08/15/2017

    How should vendors respond to Walmart’s reluctance to raise prices?

    Supplying Walmart with merchandise has never been an undertaking for wimps. Of course we should expect a chain with its huge buying power to pressure vendors to hold the line on price.Brands would certainly like to pass every cost increase through in the form of higher retails, but that's really a lazy way out. Innovation should never cease when it comes to COGS and the total product delivery system, while vendors need to respect Walmart's imperative to maintain its price image with shoppers.I think the negotiating pressure can be a spur to innovation. Large suppliers have the means and the standing to pressure Walmart back on other issues. What guarantees can the retailer provide that re-orders and On-Shelf Availability will be competently managed in every store? Recouping lost sales due to OOS may go a fair distance toward improving manufacturers' total margins.It's tougher for smaller suppliers who may not ship in full carloads or enjoy manufacturing economies of scale. These brands may need to cultivate a diverse set of customers so they don't rely too much on Walmart to keep the factories running.Tough as it is, at least Walmart seems to be fairly transparent about its position.
  • Posted on: 08/10/2017

    Is it time to reinvent category management?

    Yes! Absolutely! Of course it's time to re-invent Category Management again. It's a continuous collective effort that must never be allowed to stop. The all-star roster of contributors attracted to this discussion thread may be all the evidence you need. I've enjoyed detailed one-on-one conversations on this topic with many of you here, and I was and remain grateful to you all. For that reason, few of you will be surprised when I toss another crucial variable into the conversational mix. It's one that's not represented in today's RW reader poll. The missing element is In-Store Implementation.I know invoking the store in a discussion about Category Management in the age of digital commerce may seem like a throwback, but I don't see how CM 2.0 (or any number) can possibly advance without new and better methods for sensing and measuring store conditions and implementing category plans with near-perfect levels of conformance.The most pervasive and intractable confound that has prevented CM from realizing its whole potential in 27 years is poor On-Shelf Availability, and this has been driven by an absence of up-to-the minute store-level inventory data and a chronically distorted demand signal. When you know precisely what's on your shelves every minute of every day, every other quantity that Category Managers try to control gets better. That goes for assortment, space, price, days of supply, promotion, replenishment, shopper loyalty and in-store fulfillment of digital orders.The good news is the industry has been doing some heavy lifting recently on OSA, and a handful of retailers are gaining ground.With due respect to the very smart folks who created and contributed to this discussion, I'd like to stake a claim here to the term "Category Management 2.0." It was the title of my guest column in Progressive Grocer magazine on Nov. 15, 2006. The lede sentence reads, "You can optimize the plan, but can you actualize at the shelf?" I'd be pleased to forward a PDF copy to any RW readers who reach out.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2017

    What to do when shop local turns into look local and buy online?

    I'd like to amplify your POV just a little, Max. I think the best defense against shoppers who rudely take up the time of indy retailers only to order online is to make it personal. Showrooming will always be a fact of life for some commoditized items, like electronics. But personalized service communicates relationship value. It's OK to make the customer feel a little bit beholden (in a warm, friendly manner). When there's little margin in the item itself, selection, fitting, delivery, installation, configuration, and after-care can be profitable services that reinforce relationships. Local retailers have some advantages in this regard versus vast impersonal chains or online sellers.Offering unique (especially local) merchandise is certainly an option in some categories, but most stores are not gift shops or art galleries.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2017

    Has Amazon created another high-draw shopping model with its Treasure Trucks?

    What's not to like about Treasure Trucks? I can imagine them parked at county fairs and college football games, doling out limited-supply deals and closeouts to the faithful. Not that they will generate meaningful profits for a business the size of Amazon.com, but as a branding "vehicle" that pays its own way in the physical realm, it's a creative win.Bottom line: Colorful fun, but not very important in the grand scheme.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2017

    Can in-store experiences save retail?

    To gain the most from this discussion, we need to distinguish between contrived store "experiences" (like digital mirrors or glasses of champagne) and the "shopping experience" (where things happen as they should according to the purchase objective).Finding the desired items available for sale is a positive shopping experience. Waiting a minimal time to check out is a positive shopping experience. Visiting a clean restroom, when needed, is a positive shopping experience. Assistance from a capable, knowledgeable, pleasant sales associate is a positive shopping experience. You probably get my point by now.Many of these experience wins are derived from highly competent systems, practices, and people. Many are enabled by excellent data management tools. Having the right items consistently available for sale begins with data management, for example.Prof. Fader is spot-on when he calls out some unique experiences as wallpaper over a cracked facade (my words, not his). I'm not sure that advanced analytics represent the only alternative, but I do believe retailers must deliver great shopping experiences by mastering the fundamentals.
  • Posted on: 07/24/2017

    Do consumers want to be recognized across channels?

    Very important observation, Ralph. It behooves us "experts" to remember that our target market does not think as we do. This thought process should go even further, too. Just because retailers collect data on shopper interactions does not mean that they "own" the relationship. That's the property of the shopper, not the store, and it has considerable value.Some years ago I floated the proposition that shoppers should own and control their personal shopping profiles and expose all or part of that data to retailers as their preferences dictate. That would be a technically difficult trick, since the data has to reside in some virtual place. Now I'm learning a little about blockchain technology and virtual currencies and I wonder, is my personal shopping behavioral history a little like a Bitcoin account?
  • Posted on: 07/18/2017

    Is Best Buy’s latest Geek Squad service a blueprint for niche IoT?

    I believe the technology service & repair business has enormous potential. Having dabbled in home automation a bit this year, I can attest that installation can get complicated in a hurry. Then it requires ongoing attention. Sounds like a subscription business opportunity to me.Among the most difficult challenges for homeowners -- melding devices from multiple manufacturers -- such as smart thermostats, electronic door locks and garage openers, safety devices like smoke detectors, voice-controlled speakers, security cameras, connected appliances and the home wifi network -- into a unified solution that is easily monitored and managed.Certainly, not every household wants all these things. So identifying market segments with particular needs, as Best Buy seems to have done with Assured Living, is a sensible strategy. Putting a non-techie brand on the service is an excellent decision.An opportunity this broad will attract plenty of competitors. I'd keep my eye on the booming smart phone service & repair industry as potential entrants.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2017

    Is online fulfillment from stores too complex for e-grocery?

    Some superb observations on this thread - from both the retail operator and the "informed consumer" perspective. I've been arguing vehemently for some time that store-level inventory accuracy is the central discipline for success in supermarkets. Only a handful of chains have the skills in place to maintain a true store-level perpetual inventory in real time with computer-generated ordering. But the existence of that handful - among them Sobey's, Wegmans, Price Chopper NY - is evidence that the challenge can be addressed with practical measures. Let's face facts: In-store order fulfillment introduces an added layer of chaos. In a store with poor or marginal inventory accuracy, this can lead to even worse on-shelf availability. A digital ordering platform that's not "aware" of actual item availability at the store where the order will be fulfilled is a virtual guarantee of missing or substituted items. Here's where I beg to differ with Paula a little bit. Grocery inventories, which are re-order dominated, shouldn't suffer from widening inaccuracy as turns increase. This is a major difference from fashion categories or even most hard lines. In fact, I would argue that the high frequency of orders actually provides an opportunity to sharpen the PI accuracy since there is so much data to leverage at the store level. No wonder online grocery penetration in the U.S. has barely reached 2% of sales after more than two decades of experimentation. We already know it's hard to do right. Now we may also consider that stores which are already failing in OSA will only fail harder when they attempt in-store order fulfillment.
  • Posted on: 06/27/2017

    How will 3-D printing take hold at retail?

    Mattel's ThingMaker reminds me a lot of those wildly coveted plastic dinosaur souvenirs that came out of an injection-molding machine at the 1964-65 Worlds Fair as the Sinclair Oil exhibit.I'm holding out for the day when we can use a 3-D printer to print a 3-D printer....
  • Posted on: 06/16/2017

    What happens now that Amazon is acquiring Whole Foods?

    Mind. Reeling. Investors. Salivating. Media. Exploding.I didn't need any coffee this morning to wake up once I saw the AMZN-WFM headline.My first thoughts were for Jeff Bezos:
    • Careful what you wish for, my friend. Owning stores means operating them hour-to-hour and integrating online sales means working out how to fulfill orders in the stores for delivery or collection. That's a massive challenge and I'm not so sure your early experiments with AmazonFresh and AmazonGo have revealed the answers yet.
    • Does Whole Foods have a reliable grasp on its store level inventories? Your online ordering engine will depend upon it. Adding pickers to the stores has potential to create some chaos.
    • On the plus side, you are acquiring a very valuable brand and real estate portfolio. Hope it doesn't make you feel too tied down.
    • Maybe today's $2B stock market gain is some consolation.
  • Posted on: 06/15/2017

    Will new payment options make Amazon Prime memberships even more popular?

    Clearly Amazon.com and Walmart.com are engaged in a pitched battle to win the hearts and minds of lower-income shoppers -- including the un-banked. Subscription fees are a turnoff to folks living paycheck to paycheck -- that auto-withdrawal might cause your cell phone check to bounce! But accepting electronic benefits for eligible purchases may add up to a hill of beans. And what retailer doesn't want to save a bundle on exchange fees? The big watch-out here (for both companies) is complexity. The ROI may be attractive but, as with any new service commitment, they should be careful what they wish for.
  • Posted on: 06/13/2017

    Has Rainbow Shops created a compensation model aligned with omnichannel realities?

    Not that I enjoy playing the "old curmudgeon card" (very much), but this problem of store returns attribution goes back to at least 2000 when JCPenney confronted the exact sort of store manager resentment from its pioneering efforts to pursue online sales.What's stunning to me 18 years later is that any unified commerce retailer is still struggling to work this out. For goodness sakes, it all comes down to establishing a fair, transparent policy and setting up accounting systems correctly.That said, Rainbow Shops deserves some props for tackling the issue in an intelligent manner. I'd take the policy a bit further: Why don't retailers actually credit a store every time it successfully processes a return from an online purchase? Why not also generate a report that tracks new purchases that happen on the same store visits?Returns are a key part of fulfilling the service promise to the shopper. Treating it as some sort of financial failure is downright spirit-killing.
  • Posted on: 06/13/2017

    Can retailers escape the scourge of free shipping?

    You are absolutely correct, Ken. Nuthin's free. One way or the other shipping has to be figured into the cost of goods ... eventually. Amazon knows full well that it is in a position to use shipping policies as a competitive pressure point. Other digital retailers follow suit because they think they have no choice but to match customer expectations. They may be right. So the illusion of free shipping won't go away unless some retailers bite the bullet and take it away. My money's on Walmart and my suggested tactic is true shipping cost transparency - down to the penny. Let shoppers make informed choices about fulfillment: where, how soon, and how much.
  • Posted on: 05/09/2017

    Should more brands offer rewards linked to store purchases?

    Scanning receipts with a mobile phone has been a failed bright idea for more than a decade now. Supermarket tapes, in particular, are too long to snap in a single image, so they must be laid out on a table while the mobile device camera is moved along. People simply won't make a habit of this. Fuggetaboutit.A far better way to obtain the info from a receipt is to use one of the new-generation cloud-connected receipt printers. These require no POS system integration and are real-time interactive, so a confirmation or bounce-back offer can be appended within milliseconds -- while the receipt is printing out.Ever get a coupon at the end of your receipt at Subway? That's how it's done.The same cloud data capture mechanism could quite easily be applied to a manufacturer points program, so long as the shopper's identity is captured.

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