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: 10/25/2016

    It’s the Millennials’ world

    It has always been dangerous to attribute uniform wants and behaviors to any large demographic segment or cohort. Older boomers had a very different experiences than those who trailed 10 years behind in the snake, for example. Millennials are not one thing any more than I am a "typical" boomer (nod to Paula above). Thanks all for the spirited and thoughtful comments here.
  • Posted on: 10/24/2016

    Should Bass Pro retire the Cabela’s name?

    I think it's clear that Bass Pro Shops should continue to run its acquired Cabela's stores under their own banner for the time being. I just took a look at the store maps on both their websites and there are more non-overlapping areas than not.While they get on with the considerable behind-the-scenes work of integrating their systems and strategy, Bass Pro should carefully study its overall branding proposition. Is a banner associated with fishing appealing to hunters and campers? Is its Outdoor World banner a better umbrella than either Bass Pro or Cabela's when contemplating a national brand push?And -- thinking back to what I think was a missed opportunity for Macy's when it absorbed Marshall Field's -- how well would Bass Pro and Cabela's serve as own-label brands for the products it sells?I say they should look hard at their private label strategy and build a refreshed national brand image around Outdoor World. That's a three-year plan, if they do it right.
  • Posted on: 10/07/2016

    Is consistent messaging the key to loyalty?

    As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote in his essay, Self-Reliance: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."When I review a survey of senior executives who place worry over lack of marketing consistency so far above concerns about customer service quality, I can only visualize their minds as microscopic.In today's digital-over-mass marketplace, relevance, engagement and experience are top values in developing shopper loyalty. Employees are a key touch point in that total equation, because they can perceive, think and respond to customers. If we accept that each encounter is naturally unique, a slavish consistency is a sure path to shopper ennui.
  • Posted on: 10/06/2016

    What is the ‘maker movement’ and should retailers care?

    I'll do my best to summarize a relevant observation from futurist author Alvin Toffler: He wrote that home-based and small craft businesses would proliferate in the post-industrial world he defined as "The Third Wave." Certainly the Maker Movement may be a manifestation of this prediction.3D printers offer a remarkable means to accelerate this, but it's extremely early in the game. Outputs are so far mostly limited to individual parts or solid items made from a single plastic material. Mind-bending fun for hobbyists and tinkerers, but not ready to be turned into a home-based profit center.For retailers, on the other hand, I'd like to propose a scenario that's a bit sci-fi, but also could be crazy smart. Image a tiny kiosk shop with a large and advanced 3D printer that can fabricate numerous items, from multiple raw materials, one at a time from an electronic catalog. Bam! 100,000 SKUs available in a 250 square-foot space. I'm claiming the trademark now: FabStop. ETA: 2030.
  • Posted on: 10/03/2016

    How can retailers satisfy entitled consumers?

    You raise a point worth emphasizing, Jasmine. In the pre-web days, it was a common trope for us retail journalists to insist that retail success was highly dependent upon executives who knew their stores well. The more you visited the stores, we reasoned, the better feel you might have for your customers' shopping experiences — not to mention the competency of your merchandising and operational functions.In a Unified Commerce world, these principles are no less true. The main difference is that the points of contact with shoppers are far more numerous and varied in nature. Poring through individual reviews may be too detail-oriented for c-level executives, but if I were in the corner office, I'd require my team to provide curated summaries. I'd make an online purchase from my own company every few days, and yes, I'd still visit stores every week.
  • Posted on: 09/29/2016

    Will retailers benefit from greater supply chain transparency?

    Ethical sourcing is an important value component for an increasing number of consumers. For some it exceeds even price in importance. That means retailers, brands and even contract manufacturers have much to gain by assuring the end consumer that they adhere to best practices.But this is tricky business when a manufactured item includes ingredients, materials or components that may be farmed, mined or sub-manufactured by third, fourth or fifth parties. Some of the copper used in that electronic device may come from a mine in a third-world country that is a notorious polluter with a bad safety record, for example. How many questions must a merchant ask before it can make a claim to its shoppers?There's a chance that consistently publishing the best available ethical sourcing information online will lead to a virtuous chain of events. Retailers, manufacturers, sub-manufacturers, and raw materials suppliers could be increasingly motivated to shun any source that is a bad actor with respect to labor practices, animal cruelty, pollution or safety violations.In the meanwhile, retailers and brands need to be cautious about the claims they make for their products. Verify suppliers, and don't play word games with the conscientious public. If you are caught, they will turn on you.
  • Posted on: 09/29/2016

    Can Snapchat Spectacles avoid the missteps of Google Glass?

    Like a cross between a GoPro and Google Glass, Snapchat Spectacles have a decent chance of success, at least for this holiday season. Its best attribute is its moderate price point — a risk many of us could bear for what amounts to a clever toy.Its creative limitation — 10 - 30 seconds at a time — is also what may make it culturally acceptable, since it is an inefficient tool for stalkers or for making long-form videos. The prominent "recording" light makes stealth impossible — also a good thing.My prediction is Spectacles will be a one-season blockbuster. It will help elevate Snap Inc. and lay the groundwork for its next camera innovation. Then, like one of those videos, it will simply expire.
  • Posted on: 09/15/2016

    When will AR and VR become “realities” at retail?

    While it may be said that both AR and VR technologies are already realities, these technologies ave been long-on-ramp situations for mainstream retail.If you haven't played with Google Skymap to locate planets and constellations, then you don't really know augmented reality. For me, that was three smartphones ago.I also tested an AR "reality browsing" app on my first smartphone more than 5 years ago, that superimposed shop location icons on the screen when you aimed the phone's camera down the street (but only in a few cities, like Portland). Very similar to the Pokemon Go experience that has captivated so many folks this year.The reality browser was put to amazing use in 2009 at the Voodoo festival in New Orleans.Other than a few demos on my Google Cardboard, the most interesting VR example I've seen yet for retailers is Lowe's Holoroom, which uses Oculus-type headsets to give customers a 360-degree "inside look" at a kitchen or bathroom plan with virtual renderings of fixtures and surfaces. Beck Besecker, founder of the tech vendor, Marxent, shared a demo at last April's Global Retailing Conference at the University of Arizona in Tucson. This might actually be useful for some people.OK, so the tech is real and it works, after a fashion. The much larger remaining issues for retailers, I think, are the creation of really solid use cases, experiences and content. It's going to take years to transition AR and VR from clever novelties into practical tools for shoppers, and there are lots of other tech priorities ahead the queue.
  • Posted on: 09/09/2016

    These social media behaviors are turning off your followers

    "Authenticity. If you can fake that, you've got it made."Please forgive me for quoting Groucho Marx here again, but, he truly nailed the social media problem back in the days when telegram senders had their own version of the 140-character limit.We gray-hairs can offer all kinds of advice to social media marketers about the tone, content and frequency of messaging, but in the end, it comes down to writing ability and strategic coherence. If you paid as much to send a tweet as Groucho did to send a telegram, you might put more resources into the message content.So if you are tempted to flood your audience with cheap-to-send messages with the intent of driving up marginal response, be careful. This survey may have some validity issues, but the findings are still food for thought. The test of relevance is far more nuanced than "did the recipient ever view this product category?" And price offers ring more and more hollow as their frequency increases.Content creators must also stay cognizant of the range of sensibilities within their target audiences. Millennials and boomers, for example, may not use the same slang, laugh at the same jokes, or use the same apps. What feels authentic to me is not always the same as what feels authentic to the 20-somethings I know.
  • Posted on: 09/09/2016

    These social media behaviors are turning off your followers

    You have to admit Kohl's gaffe was funny — only in a wildly different way than they intended it to be.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2016

    How much loyalty do off-pricers have?

    Perhaps overlooked in this discussion is the reality that for a great many shoppers, off-price apparel has become the primary option. This is a hard reality for mainstream and upscale department stores, but it largely explains why they are expanding with off-price shops of their own.Buyers for TX Maxx, Marshalls, and Ross — not to mention Steinmart and Burlington Coat Factory — may be vying to source and sell the same pair of name brand jeans to the same shoppers. To keep their racks full and interest high, they fill them in with off-brand or even direct-sourced merchandise that is made specifically for the channel.Hard for me to see how veteran bargain-hunters can muster up a loyal feeling for this kind of shopping experience.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2016

    ConAgra, Unilever mull delivering meals to the home

    It's not a coincidence that this month's (October) Consumer Reports magazine includes a major feature comparing services and food from meal kit purveyors Hello Fresh, Green Chef, Plated, Purple Carrot and Blue Apron. This is a business concept whose time has come — with a strong accent on fresh ingredients.Like many others here, I am skeptical whether packaged foods companies can wield the right kind of credibility and trust with consumers to succeed with their own meal kit solutions. Even a highly convenient bundle of cans, boxes and pouches filled with processed foods won't meet many people's standards for their dinner tables.For supermarkets, on the other hand, I believe meal kits are a grand opportunity to refresh the "meal solutions" concept that has been hanging around since the 1990s. Here's my thinking: Click-and-collect-my-meal-kit. Shoppers use your store mobile app to select from a limited number of menu offerings each day of the week. Enter the number of servings. Pick up a bundle of raw and/or prepared items on the way home from work — possibly along with other grocery items.Hear me grocers: The pioneers have already proven that there is gross margin to be found in meal kits. They use much of theirs up in the delivery process. Store pick-up leaves all kinds of room beneath their price points. Just make certain your quality standards are impeccable.Now, getting back to the package foods giants: How about helping supermarkets put truly great meal kit programs together that incorporate some of your products? But be selective about the products that you push, because you can bet the shoppers will be.
  • 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.

Contact James