James Tenser

Principal, VSN Strategies
James (“Jamie”) Tenser is an analyst and consultant to the retail and consumer products industry. His firm, VSN Strategies, 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, Advertising Age, Progressive Grocer,, Supermarket News, and [email protected], and his blog,

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.
  • Posted on: 01/19/2017

    Will Walmart’s Scan & Go catch on this time around?

    I view Scan & Go version 2 as another bridge technology that will enable Walmart Labs to study how shoppers interact with mobile self-checkout and design newer, better mechanisms.I'm not a big fan of retailer-specific mobile apps. They are a nuisance for shoppers much of the time. It's still early in the game, however and we may anticipate some convergence between branded retail apps and mobile payment systems that could lead to more useful solutions that work across retail environments.That would put another spin on "unified commerce." Due to their immense scale, both Walmart and Amazon have potential to become major providers of self-checkout solutions that work everywhere.
  • Posted on: 01/19/2017

    Will a movie and gourmet food combo drive crowds to the mall?

    Luxury "screening-room" movie theaters are certainly finding a market. One company, called RoadHouse Cinemas, has been offering pleasant dine-in movie experiences for several years at several locations here in Arizona.These may draw destination traffic, but I'm skeptical that they do much to generate shopping at adjacent stores. The RoadHouse location I'm familiar with is located in a fairly nice strip center. After an evening showing, most of the stores are already closed. So much for retail synergies.This discussion does put a sharp point on the challenges faced by large enclosed shopping malls, however. With anchor stores closing and a general excess of square footage, it's not surprising to hear of mall operators looking for new experiences to attract visitors and keep the space productive.The trouble with turning malls into indoor amusement parks is that those attractions may compete for share of wallet versus other tenants who have stuff to sell.
  • Posted on: 01/05/2017

    Will Millennials lead a resurgence in home cooking?

    I think you are on to something here, William. Meal-kit services like Blue Apron and Purple Carrot provide pre-measured ingredient quantities and very complete how-to advice, including videos. For a novice home cook, it's a pretty good way to get your feet wet without poisoning yourself. Once you master some technique, it becomes apparent that you can buy ingredients a la carte (at the store) more economically and make extra quantities that reheat beautifully the next day.
  • Posted on: 01/05/2017

    Will store closings and layoffs end Macy’s woes?

    Macy's store closures are a well-justified decision that, while necessary, is not sufficient. This contraction was foreseeable. In fact, the company has been fairly transparent about its intentions all year (as Tom Redd reminds us).Chairman Terry Lundgren, in his talk at last April's Global Retailing Conference here in Tucson, was matter-of-fact about Macy's excess square footage. He outlined how it would substitute "experiences" like spa services for merchandising floor space in some stores and bring in tenant boutiques in collaboration with brands like Sunglass Hut, and its own Blue Mercury cosmetics and Macy's Backstage concepts.All in the name of making existing, over-large stores "more productive" (his words). My words for it would be to "reduce,re-purpose and diversify" its real estate portfolio.Not that this is a painless process. One Macy's mall location here in Tucson is slated for closure. I would not be surprised to see it exit a few entire markets. While the loss of jobs is regrettable, an entity the size of Macy's could not possibly be expected to stand pat in the face of dynamic market changes.Let's be clear about one fundamental truth in chain retailing: It is much, much more difficult to grow existing store sales than it is to expand a chain by adding more locations. Eventually, every large retailer reaches a moment where it must re-visualize its core concept and adapt its strategies.It seems to me that Macy's is doing just that. Too bad the stock market has punished it for making some hard, smart choices.
  • Posted on: 01/03/2017

    How can retailers make online reviews more useful?

    Adding a "Was this review helpful? Y/N" radio button to product reviews could be a good way to build trust. Reviewers who get consistent high ratings could then be elevated to star status, while obvious fakes can be demoted below the fold.
  • Posted on: 01/03/2017

    Should Costco raise its membership fees?

    Costco is on solid ground with this membership fee increase. I'd wager another $5 will have a negligible impact on renewal rates but a measurable impact on profitability. For Executive Members, the added $10 is already more than offset by the end-of-year rebate, and those folks won't be price sensitive anyway.Our smart colleagues have already raised a couple of interesting strategic points worthy of further comment:First, while I agree that Costco's online experience could be much much better, it may be a fallacy to compare its mission versus Amazon. The core difference comes down to limited assortment versus limitless assortment. Costco curates what it offers and offers many exclusives, while Amazon has made itself into a first-stop search engine for merchandise.Second, Costco's approach to selling food (fresh, packaged and frozen) is oriented toward stock-up shopping versus replenishment shopping. Amazon's subscription model is not a major threat in that regard.In short, these two powerhouses serve different need states, but they both earn a share of my wallet and those of many others, I suspect.
  • Posted on: 12/30/2016

    Amazon considers floating warehouses

    Amazon's hovering zeppelins are definitely da bomb!(Just let me re-fasten my tinfoil helmet before continuing...)If this idea ever gets off the ground it would be an impulsive consumer's dream — merchandise that drops in like rain on a moment's whim.But let's bring it down for a moment. The patent explains that the units will have to return to blimpie bases periodically to restock with fresh goods. It also says the numerous unmanned delivery vehicles (UAVs) will make a beeline to those ground-based centers after dropping their payloads.(That crowded skies visual makes me want to upgrade this helmet to kevlar...)Here and now I'd like to offer my humble gratitude to Amazon's imaginative patent trolls and especially to all the gullible news outlets who have collaborated to elevate this speculative fiction into a breaking news story. Thanks for the entertainment, folks! Howmuchyouwannabet its first order will be for fast food delivered to some guys on a golf course? Most likely four Hindenburgers with everything.
  • Posted on: 12/29/2016

    Will online grocery gain traction in 2017?

    The online grocery order and delivery concept has been a major topic of interest for more than two decades now. One fundamental truth emerges for food retailers: taking the digital order is pretty easy; delivering on the physical promise is hella hard.Fabled early attempts like Streamline and Webvan failed spectacularly because they woefully underestimated the costs and complexity of home delivery mechanisms. More recently, "click-and-collect" operators in Europe, like Carrefour Drive and ASDA have made headway by substituting convenient picking and pick up processes for an unwieldy fleet of delivery vans.Turns out that the particular convenience offered by home delivery of groceries is desirable only to a subset of customers on a subset of occasions. If 10% of shoppers 30% of their transactions delivered, the resulting 3%-4% of all trips will never constitute critical mass for the industry. The numbers get even tinier when we divide a geographic market among more than one competitor.Amazon's potential work-around for this problem depends on skimming a profitable fraction of commodity items and co-delivering them via the same channels it uses for other non-perishable products. To reach scale, I believe it will have find ways to beat everybody — from warehouse clubs to meal-kit services, to grocerants, to fast-food take-out. With Dash buttons, lockers, drones and self-driving cars rolling into the landscape too, complexity may well be its greatest weakness.After 20 years tracking the e-grocery sector, I remain intrigued with its potential. In the $650 billion U.S. market, 3%-4% remains an attractive prize. I'd count on more steady growth in the coming year.
  • Posted on: 12/28/2016

    What does Alexa’s holiday win mean?

    Amazon Echo, like Google Home and other first-wave voice-controllers, clever as they may be, are really just transitional technology. When your thermostats, lights, door locks, security alarms, entertainment centers, major appliances, window blinds, robot cleaners and even the cars in your garage are all web-connected things, we humans require a universal way to connect with them too. Touch-screens and keyboards are too clumsy. Voice seems like the way to go.The sales surge this holiday season is a reflection of the moderate entry-level price points and sunk investments already made by early adopters in various IoT devices for the home. Listening devices like the one inside Echo Dot are likely to proliferate or even come built into other IoT devices. The hardware is already a trivial trick, limited only by the designer's imagination. The heart of these systems is a voice operating system that can be configured to control just about anything.If the prospect of an always-listening mic in the family room is too chilling for you, I think you can still get by with padlocks, oil lanterns and wood-stoves, but a lot of folks seem poised to embrace the trade-off of less privacy for more automated convenience.
  • Posted on: 12/27/2016

    Which spot gets your vote as the best U.S. Christmas commercial of 2016?

    This is a good crop overall. On balance, I favor Meijer's "Do You See What I See?" commercial for it's creative concept. It achieves something magical and rare by revealing the holiday myth through children's eyes. I found it warm without being excessively sentimental."Do You See ... " edges out Dick's "Sounds of the Season" which is exceptionally clever and arresting, but relatively lacking in sentiment. Amazon's "... Meet for Tea" spot is my #3 pick. Its message is commendable but, for me, its method is a little heavy-handed.
  • Posted on: 12/20/2016

    Will a higher minimum wage translate to better service levels?

    While I generally favor upping the minimum wage (and paid sick leave) on moral grounds to keep pace with costs of living, the present round of increases seems to present a shock to the system. Small businesses, in particular, are bracing for the worst.Yesterday I attended a briefing for members of the Arizona Restaurant Association where nearly every operator in the room was anticipating staff reductions and price increases in response.Large companies will likely make similar moves. Headcount reductions (even if accomplished stealthily by attrition) will ultimately reduce service levels in stores. I'd anticipate cuts in hours and shifts for many of the workers who are retained. Not likely to leave them more motivated.So, no. I don't think customer service experiences will improve by causing wages rise to a more dignified level. Retailers who set service quality as a goal will have to do it the old-fashioned ways: train, enable, empower, monitor.When it comes to customer service, it's the practice that counts, not the pay.
  • Posted on: 12/20/2016

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: Dick’s Sporting Goods vs. Toys ‘R’ Us

    Toys "R" Us does a better job appealing to emotion, as others here correctly observe. It's a well crafted story, but the concept is unoriginal.So I give the edge to the Dick's spot by a hair, mainly because of the creativity of its storytelling concept. It provides numerous ways to relate and reasons to buy. (Besides, I've always been an aural learner.)
  • Posted on: 11/28/2016

    Is Chobani smart to open cafés in grocery stores?

    So is the in-store Chobani cafe intended as a sampling center or a profit center? From the links provided I could not tell. So I searched and found a menu with prices from the Manhattan store. With prices. Mystery solved.The acceptance of this and similar in-store eatery concepts by supermarkets will come down to profitability per square foot. We already see that where center store merchandising and inventory become more optimized it opens more floor space for high-margin perimeter departments.Our local Safeway has a Starbucks kiosk in the front lobby. Our local Whole Foods has a wine bar. Why not a Chobani cafe in the corner by the deli? Or a Boar's Head sandwich shop? Or a Progresso Soup stop? Or a DiGiorno pizza slice bar? It all depends on the shopper response and the comparative yield.For the food retailer who defines a strategy of making its stores a destination where shoppers will happily linger, nothing delivers like prepared food and a comfortable place to sit for a few minutes. There's promise in this for national brands if they do a little homework on shopper experience.
  • Posted on: 11/28/2016

    Online wins the Black Friday weekend again

    Several things come to mind here. One is that anyone who acts surprised about the increase in online and mobile shopping this season probably just awoke from a 40-year nap. Another is the decreasing importance of Thursday, Friday, Monday or any other day as a trigger for shopping behavior. As Cathy reminds us, the "cyber" in Cyber Monday refers to our past use of office computers to place shopping orders -- now entirely irrelevant in the mobile era.For retail marketers, Black Friday can still be a useful slogan, but it really depends on the slice of market they are appealing to. This weekend we had some discounters opening their doors before the turkey dinners were digested and other chains who stayed closed all day and bragged that it was out of respect for their employees' and customers' family priorities.Vive la différence! Maybe the industry is reconsidering some of its former knee-jerk holiday tactics in favor of what fits the needs of customers.
  • Posted on: 11/14/2016

    What should stores do about BOPIS abandonment?

    At-store pickup of online orders will have a very different impact depending upon the type of merchandise being purchased. Grocery orders, for example, are much more complex to pick and pack compared with an individual item like an HDTV or a sweater. Abandoned grocery items are correspondingly more challenging to return to inventory (if they can be at all). But I'll take a guess that grocery order abandonment rates are probably lower than consumer electronics or apparel. (Anybody collecting any data on this yet?)Each retail sector will need to identify and define its own best practices and policies. The chain pharmacy sector provides one potential model worth studying. How many of us regularly order our prescription renewals by phone or online and collect them from the drive-in window? Are some orders abandoned? Surely. Pharmacies have very precise rules about how, when and if the items can be returned to inventory.In the grocery sector, I could see merit in a no-refund policy regarding abandoned prepared foods orders. In consumer electronics, a re-stocking fee might apply. Retailers will need to test the waters on this, and perhaps educate shoppers as to why these policies allow them to charge the lowest possible retail prices.

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