PROFILE

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 RetailWire.com, Advertising Age, Progressive Grocer, CPGmatters.com, Supermarket News, 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.

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  • Posted on: 01/05/2018

    J.C. Penney is feeling merry about its Christmas performance

    While I'm glad to see JCP drove some top-line growth this past holiday season, I'll hold back my ebullience until it releases some profit reporting. Here's why: During two store visits last month I noted brisk traffic, but also some very deep discounting going on. Men's suit separates at 60% off, for example, and BOGOs on shirts, ties, and belts.The past season proved again that a rising tide lifts all boats. It remains to be seen how leaky the JCP fleet is.
  • Posted on: 01/05/2018

    Will retail be woven into the fabric of the new, walkable suburb?

    Mr. Layman, thank you for chiming in on this discussion with an informed perspective. As you imply, chain retail organizations were not designed to thrive in these new mixed-use developments. They will need to adapt to succeed in smaller footprints that draw from a more localized customer base. I haven't studied the economic model yet, but your words of caution have a ring of truth.In travels overseas -- particularly in Japan and Germany -- I have observed how walkable retail spaces revolve around suburban rail stations. Some have big chain stores as well as local shops and restaurants. All benefit from the commuter foot traffic that passes through daily.There are good examples here in the U.S. as well -- I think of Rockville Center on Long Island and Lafayette, CA (east of San Francisco). Notably, the last two are not products of a master planning process as far as I know, but the presence of a major rail line (LIRR or BART) seems to provide the natural organizing principle.So I'd offer a hunch that the kind of mixed-use development described in the WSJ article might depend on location around major transit hubs, since as you wisely observe, it may be unlikely that enough people could be housed within the community to ensure retailer success.
  • Posted on: 12/26/2017

    Is ‘brick mining’ valuable enough to justify physical stores?

    Physical stores are much more than behavioral research stations for online merchants. You are so right about this, Peter. The accumulated experience accrued since the Web went worldwide repeatedly demonstrates that bricks and clicks can and should be symbiotic. Each addresses different need states at different moments. Combining information from both domains should yield far richer insights than either on its own.Stores can be on-ramps to introduce and showcase the brand, build trust, and provide service experiences that persuade shoppers to become buyers. They should be profit centers on their own, even as they contribute to greater shopper insights and help distribute the brand.
  • Posted on: 12/19/2017

    Hershey and Campbell splurge big on better-for-you acquisitions

    I re-checked the oxymoron dictionary and found that "healthy snack" was still up there with "jumbo shrimp" and "unbiased opinion." The Hershey and Campbell acquisitions are good business moves, no doubt, but they are really about maintaining shelf presence and distribution power, not improving consumers' dietary well-being.When big packaged foods companies see their anchor brands are losing relevance for changing or younger consumers, it makes sense to add trendier brands to the mix. But this adds go-to-market complexity along with share-of-wallet. "Better for you" is certainly on trend, but "better for business" is a complex equation. Just please don't re-formulate my Snyders pretzels!
  • Posted on: 12/19/2017

    Are on-the-road shopping apps helpful or hazardous?

    Lee - You're on to something regarding a voice app. "Hey Chevy" might be an acceptable mode of interaction for drivers, but touchscreen interactions are asking for trouble.
  • Posted on: 12/18/2017

    Are smart homes smart enough to foil package thieves?

    Secure rooftop delivery boxes? Love the concept! But please don't drop my new flat-screen down a chute.A possibly relevant anecdote: Shortly after launching VStoreNews in 1998 I met a sharp entrepreneur from the dry cleaning business who devised a home locker for pick-up and drop-off. Like an airlock with inner and outer doors, it could be installed in an exterior wall, and opened by authorized delivery personnel.Despite some promising tests, the idea never really flew. Perhaps the concept is worth revisiting, with the addition of a smart lock on the exterior door. NFC technology might even enable unattended delivery "signatures." Vastly increased delivery frequency and concerns about theft may make this arrangement economically viable today. I've got a spot in my garage that would be perfect ...
  • Posted on: 12/14/2017

    Target to make same-day delivery push with Shipt acquisition

    Target's decision to buy Shipt may amount to putting the delivery cart before the fulfillment horse.While it's a bold step, rapid store fulfillment and delivery is not without peril. Will shoppers be willing to pay the tab for this costly form of service? Will in-store fulfillment allow for a high-level of reliability and confidence? Taking an order is easy; delivering on the promise is hard.I can't endorse this decision until I feel assured that Target has a firm grasp on store-level inventory optimization -- and the ability to port real-time, store-item availability data into the online/mobile ordering interface. Shipt has no particular expertise in this area. It will fall to Target to make the connectivity happen.Despite these concerns, I like where Target is attempting to go with its acquisition of Shipt. It's great to see them jump into the competitive fray with other market leaders.
  • Posted on: 12/12/2017

    Will meal kits be a hit on Walmart’s virtual shelves?

    Physical retailers like Walmart have an opportunity to sidestep the subscription commitment issue that probably contributes to high customer churn at online meal kit marketers like Blue Apron and others. "I want my meal kits when I want them -- not when the service tells me I do." But exposure to varied and interesting menu choices can provide consumers with an extra reason to visit grocery stores, especially at the end of the workday. This goes well beyond the "meal solutions" cross-merchandising concepts that were introduced in the 1990s.Retailers could use SMS text messaging and/or mobile apps to share daily menu alerts with opt-in shoppers. They might even take reservations for grab-and-go orders. This is a realm where I think store pickup could beat delivery plans. Walmart is smart to jump on the bandwagon.
  • Posted on: 12/08/2017

    Is a tiered dollar menu the ticket for McDonald’s?

    McDonald's announced $1-$2-$3 menu structure could have the advantage of simplifying order decisions for many customers, especially at the drive-through, where seconds count.Franchisees seek to up profits in two ways -- improve margins and increase transactions. The latter matters especially during the morning-coffee and lunch-crunch periods of the day, when the drive-up window can be a choke point in the sales process. That's why some McD's stores (and plenty of other fast-food locations) have doubled their drive-up lanes. It's all about the throughput.So yes, the new prices are partly a response to meal deal pricing by competitive chains, but I see an operational side too -- how do we serve more customers faster?
  • Posted on: 12/07/2017

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: H&M vs. Gap

    The Gap's cheery musical performance wins out over H&M's charming but dark fable. The former is an ad; the latter a story-driven moviette.The moviette phenomenon seems to be worthy of commentary in the context of the RW Christmas Commercial Challenge. We've seen a few others like this over the years. This season, Macy's "Lighthouse" spot fits the definition. No doubt they are costly to produce and air — and therefore profitable for the agencies that create them. Most moviettes, as others here observe, are destined for online viewing, not broadcast.So how are we to regard this genre of holiday ads? Moviettes can be self-indulgent, yes. But in the holiday spirit, I prefer to regard them as little gifts from the brand to the shopping public. If a few manage to "go viral" that's a form of validation. If holiday sales surge measurably as a result, that's a justification.
  • Posted on: 12/06/2017

    Dollar General is betting on the continuing decline of the middle class

    Thrift is a universal value for American consumers at every economic stratum. Dollar stores cater to this need by providing products at low price points; club stores do it by providing products with higher price points, but attractive unit costs. Many other retail formats try to capture slices of household consumption driven by alternative definitions of value -- brand, status, convenience, assortment, promotions.Dollar General's approach may be a tad cold-hearted, but there's no denying that it's responsive to market reality and well-managed. In mass retail, it's smart to target the demographic bulge. If that happens to consist of folks who can just afford the four-pack of toilet paper before payday, then don't fault the retailer.I can't say I'd advise most "big middle" retailers to shift downscale, but it may make sense for some to stock a few more smaller packs or more basic items that are within the budgets of lower-income households. It could be the key to keeping more trips.
  • Posted on: 12/01/2017

    Will click & collect finally compel retailers to remodel stores?

    Re-imagination of retail formats is a huge issue in the era of digital retail. Order-staging is a primary area for operational innovation. It requires completely fresh thinking about how self-service retail environments can be configured coexist with picking and pickup.Nikki, this is one of your best observations in recent memory. The time is nigh for retailers of all stripes to revisit store concepts from the floor tiles up. Unfortunately, I expect that many will first try and fail to address Click & Collect challenges with software and employee training. Both are necessary, but they will not be sufficient if attempted within retail environments that have not been overhauled to serve modern shopper expectations.Click & Collect is a promise most can't afford not to make, but it hikes operating costs. Wise retailers will configure their physical stores to help offset this challenge.
  • Posted on: 11/30/2017

    It’s good to be Home Depot

    Sounds like a disconnect persists between humans and machines. The web page seems to reveal that the right data table exists. (There may even be a method to the madness of assigning two separate numbers to each item.) But if customer-facing personnel are unable to leverage that to the shopper's advantage during a product return, then there's still work to do.Certainly searching store inventories online has very little to do with the returns process. Eliminating problems like the one you encountered seems like a two-pronged effort involving better tools at the POS and better training for associates.
  • Posted on: 11/30/2017

    It’s good to be Home Depot

    It's not "buy-online-pickup-in-store" that wins my greatest praise for Home Depot. It's "check-inventory-online-buy-in-store" (CIOBIS?). I don't know how to emphasize this enough, but I'll try:When in the midst of a weekend project, Murphy's DIY Corollary firmly states that the critical part or tool needed to complete the job today will NOT be on hand in your home workshop. One-click ordering won't solve this dilemma unless you are willing to wait until the following weekend to complete the task. You need the item within the hour. The most efficient solution is to confirm it's in stock at a nearby store, run out and pick it up.Only a retailer with a firm handle on store-level perpetual inventory and a tight digital linkage between Web and stores can accommodate this type of urgent need. Home Depot has its act together in this regard.Need a specific branded replacement part for a kitchen faucet? Check the website to determine if one's available at your local store, or failing that, another across town. Holy crap -- the site tells you how many are on hand and the aisle and bay number location! [FYI Ken, the web page shows both the store SKU# and the internet item #.]When it comes to CIOBIS, Home Depot has very few peers -- Lowe's comes close and Best Buy is pretty decent too. How many other retailers can say they have mastered this essential capability for unified retailing?
  • Posted on: 11/22/2017

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge Global Edition – Debenhams vs. House of Fraser

    I'd give the Debenham's spot an edge in this face-off, based mainly on how it modernizes a familiar part of the Cinderella story with a social media trope. It's got a storyline at least, although it's far from sales-y.The House of Fraser commercial wins points for its ironic use of a lesser-known R&B classic song. I had to watch it twice to grasp the story arc about sisters, but I didn't mind so much because I enjoyed hearing the music.

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