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 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: 10/17/2017

    What is the online marketplace opportunity for retailers?

    Alert retailers are well aware that more product searches begin on than on Google. So being present in its Marketplace may be regarded as a necessity. Finding ways to rise to the top of the 480 million-item stack is the challenge. How can a retailer excel in an environment where the primary differentiators are price and shipping terms?For commodity and highly-researched items, the only sure way to win the search is to be a penny cheaper than 100 other guys. This sets up a race to the bottom that retailers rightly abhor.If the cost of marketplace participation is nominal, most retailers need to maintain a visible presence. But it's a gambler's bet -- many views to gain just a few conversions.
  • Posted on: 10/16/2017

    Will lessons learned at Amazon Books translate to Whole Foods?

    Books are not replenishment purchases, in the sense that milk, eggs and produce are. The potential transfer of knowledge from Amazon Books to Whole Foods seems not so great to me for that reason.Grocery shopping remains a highly utilitarian and often time-pressured experience, and I'm not convinced that shoppers will have the patience for a trip-lengthening digital negotiation over every item they select in the store. Personalized deals and user reviews will be better communicated prior to the visit for those shoppers who like pre-planning, but they are non-starters in the aisles. Diverting shopper focus toward the tiny screen and away from the physical merchandising seems counter to the intended store experience as well. Why should brands invest in packaging and promotion if the shoppers never look up at the displays?Connecting Amazon Prime benefits to the Whole Foods shopping experience does have some interesting potential. Could frequent grocery shoppers lower their Prime membership fees, for example? Could Prime's uber-brain remember store and online purchases to populate online shopping lists and item suggestions?
  • Posted on: 10/06/2017

    Costco ups its delivery game for online orders

    Costco is playing catch-up when it comes to digital ordering and delivery options. Its rival Sam's Club has been taking orders for store pickup for years, while Amazon keeps raising expectations for convenient replenishment of household staples.Up to now, Costco has been remarkable for its conservative approach to online selling, so the CostcoGrocery and Instacart delivery services represent a strategic departure well worth watching. It will be hard to replicate the in-store discovery experience in the digital realm, but maybe they shouldn't even try to go down that path. Isn't it better to position these new services options as additional reasons for shoppers to turn to Costco?Economical delivery options may also have great potential appeal for Costco's business customers, like restaurant owners who may want to maintain a standing order for frequently-used items.Bottom line: If the new delivery options lead to greater share of wallet from Costco customers, this will be a win. But Costco should take lessons from those who have gone before when it implements in-store fulfillment.
  • Posted on: 10/05/2017

    Retailers lack of trust undermines predictive personalization’s potential

    Retailers are a conservative lot when it comes to merchandising and shoppers, so it's no surprise that they are suspicious of any solution that seems like a black box. Many senior managers have had trouble accepting price optimization and automated replenishment systems too, because such systems may seem to override the intuition they have long cultivated as merchants.The term "personalization" may sound like an application of the human touch, but the process must be highly automated because it replaces fairly static mass market decisions with millions of dynamic individual decisions. Human managers can't possibly keep up. The more artificial intelligence is employed in pursuit of this activity, the harder it becomes to visualize or evaluate the choices.Are retailers untrusting by nature? Or are they struggling to accept the reality that their prized sense of judgment is losing relevancy?
  • Posted on: 09/25/2017

    Pirch: Is it a first mover case study or a flawed model?

    It may seem like a paradox, but engineering an in-store experience that is too precious, too luxurious and too costly to maintain could actually limit the size of your potential customer base, not expand it.Who spends $8K at a time on home appliances or furnishings? The Pirch target segment may extend from one-percenters down to the upper middle class. But what sub-set of those folks invests at that level more than once in a decade?One great shopping experience does not a relationship make. Pirch's potential is directly related to its ability to attract and keep repeat customers. Perhaps there's the rub.
  • Posted on: 09/25/2017

    Would a radical partnership help Walmart thwart Amazon?

    Amazon is intimidating at present, but not invincible. Paula's comparison to the Walmart mythology of two decades ago is quite apt. But so is Ryan's observation that Google and Walmart are not natural partners. Scale matters in this equation, but there are many aspects of financial, operational, and cultural fitness to consider also.Seems to me a more likely scenario would be a straight-up merger that would allow a deeper integration of search and merchandising. If Walmart is disinterested (or hubris gets in the way), Alphabet (Google's corporate parent) could acquire Target, then add a few selected specialty chains to its portfolio. Done right, it could leapfrog Amazon in terms of physical store presence and footprint.
  • Posted on: 09/19/2017

    Does aggressive seasonal hiring portend a merry retailing Christmas?

    The stat behind the headline is that retailers like Macy's say they are hiring significantly more warehouse and fulfillment workers to meet anticipated online demand. The demand for seasonal store positions is lagging by comparison. So this is not simply a matter of a positive sales outlook -- it is also a signal that retailers anticipate another year where online sales growth outpaces physical stores.
  • Posted on: 09/19/2017

    Toys ‘R’ Us files for bankruptcy, enters ‘new era’

    This is such an important observation, Art. Thanks for raising it. Once the private investors began treating TRU as a cash cow instead of a dynamic and adaptable category leader, its days were numbered.
  • Posted on: 09/06/2017

    Do grocers need to reset the center store?

    The proportion of floor space devoted to Center Store should probably decline in favor of so-called perimeter departments in many supermarkets. The math will decide this -- what's the profitability per square foot?It's also high time for a re-imagination of the time-worn practices that group rectangular boxes in one section and the round cans in another.I don't believe the addition of "healthier" packaged foods products is a primary driver of this change, however. That's more of a response by CPGs to the intense competition for store selling space. Just as when "low fat" products proliferated in the 1990s, brand marketers are in a continuing battle to stay relevant to shoppers.Some logical groupings of shelf-stable items alongside perishables make sense (remember the meal-solutions craze?), but others merely make merchandising harder. Many vegetables come fresh, canned and frozen, but I wouldn't advocate merchandising them all in one location.As Warren observes, scattering chilled and frozen cases throughout the building is costly and inefficient from an operating perspective. Besides, shoppers are pretty well trained to know where to find things.
  • Posted on: 09/05/2017

    Will burger and fitness partnerships reinforce Hy-Vee’s mission?

    Is this the first known instance of a supermarket chain becoming a fast-food franchisee? (I don't mean leasing space to fast-food tenants or bank branches. That's been going on for decades.)"Partnership" may be literally true, but the descriptor downplays the innovativeness of this new business arrangement. "Hy-Vee will build, own and operate 26 Wahlburgers in seven Midwestern states, becoming the brand’s largest single franchisee," says the company's press release.In an era where thoughtful supermarket operators are confronting an excess of center-store square footage due to legacy real estate portfolios, converting some of the space into alternative revenue production sounds like a savvy move.Hy-Vee is diversifying its business to maintain its productivity and relevance to an evolving shopper base. This may not be the right move for every retailer, but it's one to watch closely.
  • Posted on: 09/05/2017

    Five pain points grocers must address to survive in an Amazon/Whole Foods world

    Be. In. Stock.There's nothing more fundamental for digital or physical retailers. On-Shelf Availability has been the great white whale for the supermarket industry for decades and complacency about poor performance has left the door wide open for innovative competitors. Luckily for the established players, store level inventory optimization is not that easily realized. We can expect Amazon to invent a solution for Whole Foods, but that leaves only a narrow window for the rest to get ahead of the curve.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2017

    Are Whole Foods’ price cuts game-changing for food retailing?

    Yes, it's amazing how this story has garnered high-profile coverage while the facts spin out of control. This morning I read an article that flatly stated Amazon had cut Whole Foods prices by 50%. No mention of the short list of items. No clarification that the largest item price reduction was in fact 43% and others are less. Once again the Amazon hype engine is blowing some intoxicating smoke.Amazon/Whole Foods is in a unique position in that it could choose to set prices for some items that are not connected with the actual costs of procurement. It can certainly afford to use a few loss-leaders as trial balloons. Near-matching prices on a couple dozen items makes a statement that may drive curiosity among shoppers who have previously avoided the store. But the company should be mindful about the "fake news" this announcement has spawned. A price image is a delicate thing that depends greatly on trust.
  • Posted on: 08/25/2017

    Are off-pricers discounting their online opportunity?

    Has any off-price retailer yet attempted to invent an online treasure-map mechanism that can keep shoppers returning to discover the next cool thing? This is an experience that's ripe for gamification. If shoppers can be persuaded to register and build a personal preference profile, the engine could push out individualized, short-term offers for limited-supply items. A little like a flash sale, but much more personalized.A popular price chain like Burlington or TJMaxx could use this online process to drive top-of-mind excitement, more store visits, and digital sales. Imagine a Burlington shopper receiving a text message that says, "At your store today! 10 dresses by hot designer Xxxxx, 40% off. Buy now for pickup."
  • Posted on: 08/25/2017

    What’s delaying BTS selling?

    Interesting comment, Peter. It makes me wonder whether some back-to-school purchases are in fact camouflaged because folks are ordering some items online. I hope the researchers have accounted for at least some of that effect in their methodology. Meanwhile here in Arizona, the in-store frenzy is already over -- classes started a week ago. Local retailers are already working out how to get the Halloween candy onto the shelves in 100-degree weather without a melt-down.
  • Posted on: 08/22/2017

    Can a Japanese app drive adoption in America with a toy store?

    With 169 million global users (1/7 the size of FB Messenger) Line trails significantly but has already made a dent without tackling the U.S. market.Erecting a costly physical store in the "crossroads of the world" in Times Square may not be a profitable venture on its own, but if viewed as a marketing and branding investment, the calculus may be shrewd nonetheless.Developing a line of licensed characters to represent the brand seems like a whole 'nother business, but it's worth considering that it comes from the land of Hello Kitty, an arguable rival to Mickey Mouse in many Asian countries.The billion-dollar question, of course, is will Americans sign up?

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