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: 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?
  • Posted on: 08/21/2017

    Why are Target’s small stores much more productive than its big boxes?

    Target's smaller store format could be another harbinger of the death of the prototype. While some powerhouse retail chains have been built based on the replication of the same store format across the landscape, the paradox of scale eventually takes hold.Retailers already know this in their guts. More than a few have made efforts to tailor store assortments to match local demand. This helps to a degree, but the return on these efforts may be limited by rigid store formats and leases. Over a period of years or decades, a host of local market conditions can change -- demographics, competition, digital alternatives. It can be uneconomic to move or close older stores, so retailers stick to merchandising and cosmetic remodels within the same four walls.Tailoring new store formats to match local market conditions is arguably a more agile strategy. This could prove especially effective in urban environments where the big box format won't fit and the population and local economy may tend to change in just a few years. Existing large format stores with long leases create significant inertia, however.Whether a handful of highly productive smaller stores can make a material difference to Target's total financial performance remains to be seen.
  • Posted on: 08/17/2017

    Is Walmart on an unstoppable run?

    Walmart is gaining market share online in large measure because it's been buying it through its acquisitions of Jet.com, Bonobos, Moosejaw and others. Rather than allowing its current arch-rival Amazon.com to continue skimming digital sales unchallenged, the Great Wal has made the pragmatic decision to keep up the pressure and make itself more relevant to digital-native shoppers.Meanwhile, it continues to leverage its unmatched physical store presence and expand BOPIS services, almost daring Amazon to try to formulate a competitive response. The Whole Foods deal grabbed big headlines last month, but it's a complex maneuver for Amazon that adds only a sliver of market share.Walmart is not exactly unstoppable -- the scale of its experimentation is likely to result in some significant blunders -- but its strategies look very effective right now. With its huge assets, only Walmart has the clout to sacrifice near-term margins to keep Amazon in check.
  • Posted on: 08/15/2017

    How should vendors respond to Walmart’s reluctance to raise prices?

    Supplying Walmart with merchandise has never been an undertaking for wimps. Of course we should expect a chain with its huge buying power to pressure vendors to hold the line on price.Brands would certainly like to pass every cost increase through in the form of higher retails, but that's really a lazy way out. Innovation should never cease when it comes to COGS and the total product delivery system, while vendors need to respect Walmart's imperative to maintain its price image with shoppers.I think the negotiating pressure can be a spur to innovation. Large suppliers have the means and the standing to pressure Walmart back on other issues. What guarantees can the retailer provide that re-orders and On-Shelf Availability will be competently managed in every store? Recouping lost sales due to OOS may go a fair distance toward improving manufacturers' total margins.It's tougher for smaller suppliers who may not ship in full carloads or enjoy manufacturing economies of scale. These brands may need to cultivate a diverse set of customers so they don't rely too much on Walmart to keep the factories running.Tough as it is, at least Walmart seems to be fairly transparent about its position.
  • Posted on: 08/10/2017

    Is it time to reinvent category management?

    Yes! Absolutely! Of course it's time to re-invent Category Management again. It's a continuous collective effort that must never be allowed to stop. The all-star roster of contributors attracted to this discussion thread may be all the evidence you need. I've enjoyed detailed one-on-one conversations on this topic with many of you here, and I was and remain grateful to you all. For that reason, few of you will be surprised when I toss another crucial variable into the conversational mix. It's one that's not represented in today's RW reader poll. The missing element is In-Store Implementation.I know invoking the store in a discussion about Category Management in the age of digital commerce may seem like a throwback, but I don't see how CM 2.0 (or any number) can possibly advance without new and better methods for sensing and measuring store conditions and implementing category plans with near-perfect levels of conformance.The most pervasive and intractable confound that has prevented CM from realizing its whole potential in 27 years is poor On-Shelf Availability, and this has been driven by an absence of up-to-the minute store-level inventory data and a chronically distorted demand signal. When you know precisely what's on your shelves every minute of every day, every other quantity that Category Managers try to control gets better. That goes for assortment, space, price, days of supply, promotion, replenishment, shopper loyalty and in-store fulfillment of digital orders.The good news is the industry has been doing some heavy lifting recently on OSA, and a handful of retailers are gaining ground.With due respect to the very smart folks who created and contributed to this discussion, I'd like to stake a claim here to the term "Category Management 2.0." It was the title of my guest column in Progressive Grocer magazine on Nov. 15, 2006. The lede sentence reads, "You can optimize the plan, but can you actualize at the shelf?" I'd be pleased to forward a PDF copy to any RW readers who reach out.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2017

    What to do when shop local turns into look local and buy online?

    I'd like to amplify your POV just a little, Max. I think the best defense against shoppers who rudely take up the time of indy retailers only to order online is to make it personal. Showrooming will always be a fact of life for some commoditized items, like electronics. But personalized service communicates relationship value. It's OK to make the customer feel a little bit beholden (in a warm, friendly manner). When there's little margin in the item itself, selection, fitting, delivery, installation, configuration, and after-care can be profitable services that reinforce relationships. Local retailers have some advantages in this regard versus vast impersonal chains or online sellers.Offering unique (especially local) merchandise is certainly an option in some categories, but most stores are not gift shops or art galleries.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2017

    Has Amazon created another high-draw shopping model with its Treasure Trucks?

    What's not to like about Treasure Trucks? I can imagine them parked at county fairs and college football games, doling out limited-supply deals and closeouts to the faithful. Not that they will generate meaningful profits for a business the size of Amazon.com, but as a branding "vehicle" that pays its own way in the physical realm, it's a creative win.Bottom line: Colorful fun, but not very important in the grand scheme.

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