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: 08/25/2016

    Can Best Buy build momentum with new services and IoT?

    Connected home devices represent a massive emerging market, and Best Buy is better positioned than any other brick and mortar retailer to take a leadership role. But becoming an IoT leader means venturing out from its comfort zone in appliances, networking, computer and video gear to encompass home security, lighting, irrigation systems, HVAC — maybe even power window treatments.Without question there will be billions of IoT devices sold over the next decade in the U.S. market alone. Best Buy recognizes this, but so do many others. I'd anticipate tremendous price competition for the devices themselves, and rising need for expert services for installation, monitoring and maintenance.The Geek Squad could be Best Buy's ace in the hole, but as Ken Cassar smartly points out, there are alternative service providers like Enjoy, who have their eyes on this profit center without the burden of inventory carrying costs.
  • Posted on: 08/24/2016

    How much will POS malware attack cost Eddie Bauer?

    When I read in the Eddie Bauer press release that the data thefts took place over a 6 month period (Jan. to July), I had to sigh. Even if the attackers were "sophisticated" as claimed, the company was asleep at the switch. Heads hafta roll.Now we witness yet another retail company mobilizing to padlock the barn door after the horses have been rustled through a hole cut in the side wall. This happens so regularly that its almost funny. And yes, Ben, I suspect consumers are becoming numb about this sort of incident.What's been missing from this story and many that preceded it is a precise assessment of the actual damage to shoppers. How many identities and credit card numbers were stolen? How many consumers suffered direct losses on those accounts? What proportion of those losses were covered by the retailers and banks? How many affected shoppers actually make use of free identity protection services offered?Finally, do those affected shoppers actually stay away in droves following a reported cyber attack? Or do they just say they will when they answer surveys?
  • Posted on: 08/24/2016

    Has Sears discovered how to profit from its softer side?

    While not impossible, it will take some promotional magic for Sears to attract new traffic by offering these barely-known brands. Would BrainTrust-ers who live in those markets kindly keep an eye out for their print ads and newspaper inserts? I'd be curious to see how they introduce "Showcase" to the market.OK, so if share of customers is a tough road, maybe Sears is aiming first for share of wallet? I don't know much about current shoppers in the five metro New York locations, but Sears could be betting that the new offerings will persuade them to make incremental purchases and visit more often. I hope they did their research. (Or maybe these pilot locations ARE the research?)For Sears' sake, I hope its partner in this venture, SGN Group, has the know how to reach shoppers with the right message and merchandise. Buzz words like "boutique" and "curated collection" will only go so far to inspire acquisitive curiosity.
  • Posted on: 08/23/2016

    Why is Apple dropping ‘Store’ from the name of its stores?

    So what was I missing? I just searched dozens of Apple place exterior pics on Google Images and I didn't find the word "store" on any of them.Too bad, because I was planning a snarky comment about how much money they'd save in signage. But no luck. The Apple is just the Apple and it has been just that from the beginning.I suppose calling its walk-in locations "stores" was originally a signal to the investor community. Now that it's clear the locations are as much about service delivery as product sales the word is at least redundant -- at worst inaccurate.This is a fine little press-release moment for the Apple folks, but I don't think it changes a darned thing.
  • Posted on: 08/22/2016

    Will drop shipments become a major online fulfillment tool?

    Drop-shipping of online orders from their manufacturer facilities is not exactly a new concept. It can work well in situations where the seller is playing the role of order-taker but not order-consolidator.For higher consideration/higher cost items like electronics, appliances or furniture, and even print-on-demand books, drop-shipping enables the retailer to offer a broader range of products while minimizing inventory investment. Those items are shipped once, not twice, saving considerable costs, handling, and shrinkage.This can get complicated in an any-channel environment, when customers want to present online purchases to the store for return. The drop-ship arrangement may also present limitations on the retailer's ability to offer discount prices and promotions.On balance, I see drop-shipping as one of several fulfillment options that may coexist for an online retailer.
  • Posted on: 08/22/2016

    Will Amazon drive-up grocery stores disrupt food retailing?

    Based on too-little information in the news stories, it seems likely that Amazon is testing its own version of the click-and-collect grocery concept pioneered by Carrefours and Auchan in France and similar concepts already tested by both Kroger and Walmart here in the U.S.For me, the most convincing piece of information is the architect's rendering filed with the city of Sunnyvale, CA and published in the Silicon Valley Business Journal article a year ago. The general design is strikingly similar to the Carrefours Drive facility pictured in a presentation at the 2015 TPA Supply Chain Conference and a similar image published by Walmart earlier this year.All these facilities resemble a Sonic drive in -- a row of drive-thru, covered parking spaces adjacent to a relatively small building where orders are assembled. Drive up, pop the trunk, an employee loads the order within minutes -- slam and go. Very convenient for a mom driving a carpool or a dad rushing home from the office.It's not a bit surprising that Amazon would test its own version of this concept. Neither is it surprising that it uses a moniker like "Project X" to add dramatic tension to the inevitable "leak" of information. Apparent secrecy makes any ordinary business test seem more sophisticated and important.I doubt that Amazon is worried that this test will disrupt its other grocery selling channels. If anything it might be incremental, since click-and-collect is more suitable for selling fresh and prepared foods. Covering the landscape with convenient Project X locations would be a monumental undertaking, however, and existing supermarket chains across the country would be likely to open competing locations.Bottom line -- click-and-collect is a sound service concept that is relatively easy to clone. Amazon is a fast-follower in this, not an innovator.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2016

    Will 365 concept prove to be the future of Whole Foods?

    While it's difficult to draw conclusions from just the first two stores, lower operating costs and simplified pricing may allow 365 by Whole Foods to keep prices in line with rivals like Trader Joe's and mainstream supermarkets.There's a fair amount of cost-saving innovation going on -- like less labor, electronic shelf labels, prepackaged meats and energy-saving technologies -- but the real difference seems to be in the assortment itself. I'm sure there will be plenty of certified organic and sustainably-sourced products, but I suspect the ratio of luxury food items will be lower compared with the classic Whole Foods stores.While it's tempting to compare 365 with Trader Joe's, I think an equally challenging competitor could be 220-store Sprouts, which has positioned itself as the healthy food supermarket for the masses across the southwest. Other regional competitive pressure comes from Natural Grocers (96 stores), the Colorado-based chain, and The Fresh Market, based in Greensboro, NC with 185 stores.Whole Foods has earned most of the headlines nationally, and at its core it's really a luxury food chain that may be close to filling out its national footprint. 365 looks like a bid to expand its customer base with a format that fits in middle class communities. If I were Whole Foods, I'd probably leave most of my main-line stores alone, but there may be a handful that are candidates for conversion to the 365 format based on local demographics.
  • Posted on: 07/28/2016

    How should commissions work in the era of omnichannel retailing?

    The challenge of attributing the sale dates back nearly 20 years, to the first multi-channel retailer to accept an in-store return of an online purchase. Managers rightly balked at the notion that their store productivity could be negatively impacted when they issue a credit. Not to mention the staff time that would be soaked up by the service encounter and restocking.The perception at the time was that the online channel was effectively in competition with the stores. Pursuit of fairness led to some early policies to credit stores with a proportion of online sales. In the ensuing unified commerce world, new customer paths, notably BOPIS, add new wrinkles to the attribution question.Commission-based sales are certainly impacted by extension. There are several schemes worth considering to add fairness, without relying solely upon the "last-touch" model. One might be to pool commissions for net sales completed entirely online and allocate to personnel based on each store's geographic footprint. This is like found money for the sales staff, so payout rates might be adjusted lower.Certainly online-sales fulfilled in stores should be commission-able as well. Pooling at store level would make sense here. Any online order completed in the store with the assistance of store personnel should be treated like any other fully-commissioned special order sale.I see no reason why a modern retailer with commissioned sales people could not find a way to automate the accounting for this. Management would gain an information bonus in the process -- a more detailed understanding of how sales happen in the Incredible Dissolving Store.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2016

    How far should brands go with functional packaging?

    Folks have been storing stuff in cardboard shoe boxes for well over a century. (I looked it up.) They are a triumph of functional design.How many of us are old enough to remember making dioramas out of shoe boxes in elementary school? Some white glue; a little plastic dinosaur; some leftover Easter grass; voila!Perforated cardboard packages that can be converted into whimsical toys or art are fun too, but not a strong reason to buy the product inside.Those un-openable welded plastic blister packages, however, are useless for any secondary purpose except cutting your fingers. They are a good reason NOT to buy what's inside.Functional packaging is not exactly a new idea. The old Barnum's Animal Cracker boxes came with a string handle and lively decorations that gave them temporary play value. And don't forget those single-serve cereal cartons, with the flaps that punch out of one side so you can make a "bowl."Adding electronics seems a little weird on first thought, but then again, those greeting cards that play music when you open them seemed pretty exotic when they were introduced in the 1980s.In the realm of consumer packaged goods, the package is integral with the product. If your bag of rice comes with a zip lock closure, that's a functional package. So are those yogurt cups that separate the crunchy part from the wet part until you open and mix them together.My favorite example by far is an ice cream bar on a stick. Time for lunch, I guess.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2016

    Amazon declares victory – Prime Day II concludes

    Prime Day is all about new members. Selling stuff is a fine thing, but expanding the network is far more valuable to Amazon.It's time for us retail experts to shift our analytic perspective when trying to get a handle on the Big A. It's not a merchandise-centric enterprise, despite its colossal sales. In fact, it doesn't really have a merchandising philosophy at all — it just sells everything.Amazon is all about tapping into an ever-widening swath of consumption behavior and gaining an expanding share of an increasing number of wallets. Its brilliance has been about engineering consumer behavior to its profitable advantage.That's why Prime Day will be deemed a success if a surge of sign-ups results. Sure, the one-day deals sacrifice some margin to create excitement. The offset comes from membership fees which provide working capital (ask the late Sol Price about that when you meet him in retail heaven). After that, it's all about lifetime customer value. Nobody cultivates that better than
  • Posted on: 07/08/2016

    Are in-store personalization tactics becoming less creepy?

    When it comes to cool-versus-creepy, I think the creep factor is highly situational.An example (for those gentlemen in our cadre who sometimes buy fine clothing): If the tailor asks you, "Do you dress left or right?" is that a violation of your intimate space or a helpful personalization of your trouser purchase? Does your answer depend on your age or past experiences or the price tag of the garment?Now how about building similar investigative features into a "smart" mirror in the dressing room? I'd guess some shoppers might find this pretty cool, while others might think only of the body scan data that winds up in the store's creepy database.Machine-controlled shopper interactions may be personalized in a variety of ways, but that does not make them personal in the emotional sense. I believe even tech-saturated millennials can feel the difference.A mobile phone app that relentlessly suggests deals or add-on purchases to shoppers as they move about the store or mall may be technically feasible, but does it make for a better customer experience? Somewhere between "cool!" and "creepy" there's another value that's just "cold."
  • Posted on: 07/08/2016

    Will new gen grocery stores cut waste down to zero?

    We call them "consumer packaged goods" because the stuff on the outside is often inextricable from the stuff on the inside. Elimination of all packaging is not merely a utopian ideal for waste reduction, it's a re-imagination of the entire business model.Can you imagine buying an unwrapped Snicker's bar from a bin? Or is that a Milky Way that a previous customer moved by mistake? (Gee I hope the kid's hands were clean.)Is the milk in that re-used glass jar organic or 2% or vanilla almond? How is the cashier supposed to tell the difference?So yeah, I do my best to remember to bring my cloth grocery bags in from the car. And I buy some bulk foods like nuts and rolled oats (that come home in plastic bags).But packaging serves several essential purposes: Assurance of the authenticity of the product is one. Safety and cleanliness is another. A billboard for branding and required product description is yet another. You simply can't have self-service mass merchandising without it.How and how much packaging to use is an important subject. Reduce - reuse - recycle are certainly values to live by, but all-bulk food shopping is a boutique concept, not a substitute for mass merchandising.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2016

    Walmart in no hurry to add other mobile payment options

    I'm not a fan of retailer-specific mobile apps. I shop in lots of places and don't want to manage multiple apps any more than I want to carry two dozen loyalty cards in a bulging wallet. So Walmart isn't tempting me with its proprietary mobile payments system, despite some admirable security features. In fact, it kind of alienates me. I do think the receipt storage feature is worthy of emulation by others.
  • Posted on: 07/05/2016

    Should e-mails and other personal info be for sale?

    Considering the cumulative investment and competitive advantage built into a customer database, corporations are compelled to recognize their value on the books. Then they routinely lie in policies that promise not to transfer or re-sell personal data.Well you can't have it both ways: Either a customer data list is a transferable asset with a market value or it's a proprietary asset that must evaporate in the event of a corporate transaction or bankruptcy dissolution.On a philosophical and perhaps legal level, it comes down to who owns the e-relationship -- the shopper or the retailer? As a practical matter the retailer has control, and that's that.So maybe it's necessary to split the difference. Ban reselling of customer data to third parties like list brokers and other outside marketing entities under any circumstance, including liquidation. But permit transfer of whole customer lists as core assets when a corporate merger takes place, with a key caveat: Require an audit-able, voluntary opt-out notification and simple procedure on the part of the acquiring entity. I'd append a rule requiring adherence to the pre-existing privacy policy for two years.This might force the acquirer to align its interests with the best interests of the list members. Win them over with kindness, or lose them forever.This is an off-the-cuff proposal, so I'd invite critics and collaborators to chime in.
  • Posted on: 07/01/2016 lets consumers see inventory at nearby shops

    According to its FAQs, Locally gets its store inventory information by asking participating retailers to transmit SKU# and Quantity data from their POS systems on a daily basis. It's a fairly simple process that can be automated. If the retailer's POS system has an accurate and current tally of stock on hand, this can probably work well.I'm less clear on how well the effort will pay off for retailers, however, since, the model depends on shoppers who first identify desired items, then decide to seek them in nearby shops without concern about prices. Is this a common behavioral pattern? On the plus side, I'm impressed that is designed to interface favorably with search engines. This may be the core advantage for independent retailers.

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