James Tenser

Retail Tech Marketing Strategist | B2B Expert Storytelling™ Guru | President, VSN Media LLC
James (“Jamie”) Tenser is an analyst and consultant to the retail and consumer products industry. His firm, <b><a href=""> VSN Strategies </a></b>, 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. <b><a href=""> </a></b>
  • Posted on: 05/06/2021

    Will a new subscription program make Circle K a daily stop for members?

    With Sip & Save, Circle K may just have figured out how a convenience store chain can convince customers to enroll in a loyalty program and identify themselves on every visit. The daily coffees are a Trojan horse. If successful it could be a game-changer, making it the first C-store operator to capture actionable shopper data it can use to make smarter merchandising and promotions decisions.
  • Posted on: 05/06/2021

    Labor Department makes it tougher to classify gig workers as contractors

    It's worth considering that the reason gig drivers affiliate with more than one brand is because they can't cobble together a decent living by working with only one. The definition of "employee" is due for reexamination in this context. Seems like gig workers get the worst of all worlds -- uncompensated waiting hours, few or no benefits, complex income tax calculations, work expenses like auto repairs and fuel, no bathroom breaks, and zero negotiating leverage with their employers/clients. As someone who has delivered his fair share of freelance work over many years, I am concerned that efforts to create a new legal framework around driving and delivery gigs may result in disaster for writers and artists who are paid by the assignment. Updated definitions under the law must distinguish more than just employee-versus-contractor, as the nature of those contract relationships is not at all uniform. A "contractor bill of rights" is needed that defines basic protections.
  • Posted on: 05/05/2021

    Are retailers making it too tough for seniors to shop online?

    My own tech journey was exactly as you describe, George. From rimfire typewriters to punched paper tape, to Zywrite, WYSIWYG, Word, WordPress, social media and Zoom. Oh yeah, and RetailWire. As newer apps and concepts keep arriving at a faster pace, I find myself making practical choices. Maybe mastering TikTok just isn't important enough in my priority scheme. Tutorials can be helpful for complex applications, but most new tech experiences can be learned faster by asking a 12-year old, as Ron correctly observes. The lesson: intuitive application experience design is a far greater help than help screens. It's up to younger designers to study how users perceive their solutions. Just as with any other product development cycle.
  • Posted on: 04/28/2021

    Report: Amazon will surpass Walmart as America’s biggest retailer by 2025

    In every era, the retail status quo confronts a new shibboleth. Recall the panic when Walmart entered the grocery sector in the early '90s? Somehow the industry adapted and survived.
  • Posted on: 04/28/2021

    Do five-star ratings systems have a ‘positivity’ problem?

    Five point ratings need to be reimagined so that 1 means "Utter fail"; 2 means "disappointing"; 3 means "met all expectations"; 4 means "better than most"; and 5 means "above and beyond." Present star scores are barely diagnostic at all. Even the brands who ask for these ratings learn virtually nothing actionable from the responses.
  • Posted on: 04/28/2021

    Report: Amazon will surpass Walmart as America’s biggest retailer by 2025

    I love stats like this that say "excluding gas." Isn't fuel a product? Too bad you can't ship it in corrugated boxes, or Amazon would sell it too. Gas or no gas, it seems inevitable that Amazon's total retail revenues will outpace those of Walmart. Their models differ enough, however, that boiling the results down to a single number does not provide a useful diagnostic picture. Much more clear is how the intensity of the rivalry puts less powerful retailers at a disadvantage. When giants clash, the little people tend to get stepped on. Walmart and Amazon both possess the immense resources and the will to enable intense experimentation at scale. Most other retailers can only stand by and observe, then try to mimic the best experiences after the fact.
  • Posted on: 04/27/2021

    Are consumers getting less creeped out about being tracked online?

    Resigned acceptance is not the same thing as an endorsement. Consumers want the benefits of responsive apps that recognize and remember their preferences and deliver information that is curated for relevance. They get overwhelmed with the chore of managing access for each and every online service, so they give in. This is why "opt out" standards and 30-page mandatory user agreements must be outlawed. I don't think the problem is "creepiness" so much as outright theft. My personal data should be mine to share or trade in a fair exchange of value. This is a Bill of Rights level issue.
  • Posted on: 04/26/2021

    Will stock ownership work as a loyalty program perk?

    Shares as rewards is a very creative idea, but ... all shoppers are split shoppers and I doubt they will be nudged toward exclusive loyalty by a few pennies worth of stock. Cryptocurrency might be a better lure? Maybe the folks at Coinbase should take a stab at this.
  • Posted on: 04/23/2021

    Can retailers wait any longer for government to move on climate change?

    Postulate #1: No entity has a natural right to extract profit from the planet by damaging its environment. For centuries, this reality has been ignored in the name of economic progress and value-creation for the few. As humanity has scaled, the cumulative impact now looms large, and we all must pay if we want the planet to survive. Retailers have a unique opportunity in this regard because they serve virtually the entire population. The decisions the industry makes can have a real impact on bettering environmental health. Fours areas stand out: products, packaging, transportation and energy. There are economic and moral benefits for improving each of these. I'd like to re-state my position on the last factor — a colossal overlooked asset. Retailers collectively have millions of acres of mostly-empty flat rooftops that are exposed to solar energy. In many instances they absorb heat that requires electrically-powered air conditioning to cool the spaces beneath. Covering available retail roof space with photovoltaics has the potential to turn stores and distribution centers into net positive energy producers while shading the buildings in the bargain. This adds local resiliency to the electrical grid (hear me, Texas?) and creates an energy surplus that improves retailers' bottom line. RILA is d*#n right that sustainability change is needed now. I only push back on the assertion that the transition must go at a measured pace. I believe radical action is a necessity — as should anyone who wants a good quality of life for their grandchildren.
  • Posted on: 04/22/2021

    Say goodbye to Walmart’s robotic towers

    I never was a fan of the order pickup towers, but I strongly agree with the test-and-learn approach Walmart took to evaluating them. The shoppers have spoken: "Bring it out to my car."
  • Posted on: 04/08/2021

    Will climate action become less of a priority for retail post-pandemic?

    Whether business leaders buy into the climate change rationale, reject it as fake, or simply don't give a fig, none can deny the rule they were taught in kindergarten: "Clean up your mess." Every business leaves a footprint. Every business activity has consequences for the local and global environment. Every unnecessary gram of carbon, or thousand-year bit of plastic is everybody's problem. Every contaminated gallon of fresh water is an economic loss for the planet. For too long, too many investors and business leaders have ignored the mess and left it for others to clean up. This is both immoral and unsustainable. A disgrace with dire consequences. Among businesses, retailers occupy a unique position of daily contact with the citizenry plus immense influence over what products can reach them. This must be regarded as a grave responsibility and a privilege. I can visualize no plausible scenario where retailers would not exert increasing influence over planetary stewardship. The marketplace will punish harshly those who don't clean their messes. Environmental sustainability = business sustainability.
  • Posted on: 04/07/2021

    Will shelf scanning robots put an end to out-of-stocks?

    In-store sensing robots are mere toys unless the data they gather is linked to a robust perpetual inventory and automated ordering system on the back end. Detection and remediation is the wrong operational strategy to address out-of-stocks. By the time they are discovered, the damage is done! Forecasting plus inventory optimization are the correct strategies for fast-turning product categories. The latter may be enabled by any number of sensing mechanisms - handheld scanners have worked beautifully for this purpose for many years. Can semi-autonomous hardware successfully replace fleshware in this scenario? Robotics investors surely hope so. Machine vision tech is advancing at an astonishing pace, and those rolling shelf scanners are close to delivering data quality that rivals human-gathered. So are stationery shelf cams and other types of sensors, including mobile phones. So a fair argument may be made that tireless 'bots can replace people for those tasks. But they can't search the back rooms or restock shelves or refold sweaters. And they can't drive effective decision-making unless they are linked to forecasting, PI and CGO systems that already work.
  • Posted on: 04/06/2021

    Associates are starring in retailer ad campaigns

    I'm the kind of cynic who runs (or clicks) the other way when I see an "influencer" coming, so using employees in ads seems comparatively promising. Then again, asking staffers for public endorsements may be something like coercion if not handled with finesse. This can be made worse if the outside creative team brings cynicism to the shoot. So a word of caution: If your brand has successfully empowered team members and created a product with bulletproof quality and impeccable social responsibility you have a decent shot of conveying authenticity using associates as your endorsers. Do not suffer the delusion, however, that positive words from a few smiling staffers will cure underlying deficiencies in your brand.
  • Posted on: 04/06/2021

    What will 80,000 closed stores mean for America’s retailers?

    Like just about all innovations, e-commerce behavior is subject to the classic adoption "S" curve. We're in the steep part right now but the present rate of increase cannot continue in perpetuity. There is a theoretical ceiling to digital shopping, and the levels will vary by channel and product category. Store churn is the metric I find most meaningful. What will new formats be like and how will they integrate digital interaction, headless commerce, and attractive experiences? How much share will be sopped up by the most powerful omnichannel retailers in Food-Drug-Mass? Store closures are tied to this, of course, but it really applies most to obsolete formats, including stodgy anchor stores and trendy mall boutique formats that were perishable by design. While I'm truly sorry for their discharged employees, there's some natural selection at work here and the survivors will be stronger for it.
  • Posted on: 03/26/2021

    Amazon’s no good, very bad PR week

    Amazon's PR blunders are certainly regrettable. (Mr. Clark's tweets were just plain dumb.) With its immense employee base, the odds are virtually certain that a few instances of unhappiness would surface. The company must know it is an obvious target for advocates of antitrust and unionization who may seek out uncomfortable anecdotes. Goes with the territory, I guess, but companies that do right tend to have much less need for crisis PR. I agree with Mark's observation that a company with these resources should be setting the standard for working conditions. A living wage is essential, but not sufficient. Distractions like gamification (discussed in this forum 10 days ago) are a clue that Amazon doesn't fully understand what it takes to be a first-class employer.

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