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. vsnstrategies.com
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  • Posted on: 11/13/2019

    What happens now that Nike has called off its deal with Amazon?

    Nike is making a strategic move by backing away from the Amazon.com platform. It may have enough clout on its own to make it work, but its departure may also leave a power void on Amazon that others will rush in to fill. That could include Amazon PL products, as well as rival sporting goods brands. Since Amazon is very often the first search location that shoppers access when looking for products, Nike must have calculated that its own brand equity will be strong enough to be "found" elsewhere. Consumer direct can be a perilous choice. Intermediaries deserve to exist to the extent that they add value for the brands they distribute. It will be interesting to observe whether Nike can improve its fortune by stepping back from the world's largest distribution platform.
  • Posted on: 11/08/2019

    Gap Inc.’s CEO steps down. What comes next?

    "Operational excellence is not a strategy." - Michael Porter It is a necessity, however. All retailers need to stand for something in the hearts and minds of shoppers. Gap and its brands appear to have slid into the mediocre middle while the plumbing was being repaired. I'm with Dick and Paula on this - put the merchants back in charge.
  • Posted on: 11/08/2019

    Ralph Lauren offers consumers a DIY counterfeit-checking tool

    I like this idea a lot, but I do worry that a cottage industry may soon arise to produce counterfeit tags for counterfeit products. Some further thoughts: QR codes require active engagement from the shopper in the store using an app. They are an after-the-fact check for any product purchased online. Despite some limitations, this is an initiative worth supporting, since it will surely make life harder for counterfeiters and may make them easier to catch and shut down.
  • Posted on: 10/30/2019

    Will free deliveries for Prime members make Amazon the driving force in online grocery?

    I don't view free Prime grocery delivery as a preemptive act by Amazon at all. Walmart set the bar last month when it announced Delivery Unlimited. Amazon was forced to respond. This is highly significant because it exposes an area of vulnerability for Amazon in the grocery sector. At this time, I don't see it as highly competitive with respect to fresh and perishable grocery. Walmart's physical plant is an immense fulfillment advantage versus Amazon's patchwork of regional fulfillment centers and Whole Foods' limited assortment.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2019

    Will six fewer holiday shopping days matter to retail performance?

    Digital commerce provides shoppers with a convenient mechanism to "virtually" expand the shopping season, even in a year where Thanksgiving comes late. I see holiday merchandise displays already in place at some retailers -- alongside Halloween decorations and candy. Those merchants have counted back from 12/25 to open a window of sufficient duration. After a couple of strong holiday years in succession and with a contentious political season on the horizon, I can see how some merchants might want to prepare a palatable excuse just in case performance sags this year. Fretting about the "short" holiday season provides a cover story.
  • Posted on: 10/28/2019

    What makes voice assistants creepy?

    Ken is right that transparency about how voice devices work may alleviate some of the creep factor. But it may add other discomfort. The makers probably reason that they don't want to emphasize the extent to which their sensors are listening and gathering user info by being too forthcoming. Unsolicited voice communications from these devices could have the effect of highlighting their intrusiveness. When visitors to my home hear my Nest smoke/CO detectors announce a self-test they are visibly startled. If an Echo device chirped that it may be time to re-order toilet paper, I might be tempted to hit it with a hammer. Just as we humans have had to learn a thing or three about email etiquette and texting etiquette, I suspect the designers of voice assistants will need to establish some etiquette guidelines of their own. Perhaps the AI will supply these over time. I propose that Alexa, Siri, and Google add new "skills" that allow a human user to say "I don't like what you just did," or words to that effect. Nothing like real-time response data to hasten the learning cycle.
  • Posted on: 10/28/2019

    What will drive food trends for 2020?

    It may be at the top of this list, but I wouldn't pick "regenerative" agriculture as the top opportunity for food production. Vertical agriculture -- both macro and micro scale -- is the real future. The key is to localize production close to where the population lives and consumes. Benefits include product freshness, food safety, less spoilage, and minimal land, water and fertilizer use. There were numerous references to this innovation area at last month's GroceryShop event. Ocado is erecting facilities adjacent to its U.K. fulfillment centers. Whole Foods has even experimented with rooftop hydroponic gardens to produce greens and herbs that can be sold downstairs. My #1 trend is less concentrated, more localized food production.
  • Posted on: 10/17/2019

    Is e-grocery less convenient than shopping in stores?

    Any discussion about convenience must address which "convenience" is paramount for a given purchase interaction? These may be time-saving, effort saving, or both: Delivered in one day is convenient. Available for immediate pickup at midnight is also convenient. Auto-replenish my stored shopping list is convenient. Load my order into my vehicle a minute after I arrive is convenient. Send me a curated set of suggested items and deals is also convenient. Just-walk-out with my order is convenient. Bring it to my home fridge is convenient. So for me, the digital-versus-in-store dichotomy is somewhat forced. Modern grocers must prepare to offer convenience in all its forms to all shoppers in every encounter. Or they may strategically decide to offer certain conveniences and eschew others that bring a poor return. Customer response will be the deciding metric.
  • Posted on: 10/02/2019

    Do Carolinians have Wegmans on their minds?

    Wegmans is arguably the most-admired supermarket chain in the nation. It's not only superb at merchandising its stores and marketing its brand, but its operations side is exceptional too. As it passes the 100-store milestone, I feel compelled to offer this reminder to my friends in Rochester: The bigger the chain, the longer the distance from its customers. I call this "the Paradox of Scale" and I probably repeat it too often, but there it is anyway. When your reputation precedes you, as it evidently did in Raleigh this weekend, the pressure is on to meet expectations. I'm rooting for Wegmans to maintain its high standards as it advances down the Eastern seaboard.
  • Posted on: 10/01/2019

    Do retail metrics need to be reinvented?

    Right on, Ben. Deloitte's proposed measures are useful for company valuation but less so for company operation. As its report states, same-store-sales and sales-per-square-foot (which have long been poorly applied by financial analysts) are even less relevant in the digital era. Measures of customer relationship value and share of customer are harder to pin down, but are ultimately more indicative of a retailer's true health. So is "attribution" or an understanding of the complex factors that precede and influence each purchase. I'd add a few operational measures to the mix, especially Inventory Availability, which I regard as a keystone measure of retail competency.
  • Posted on: 09/24/2019

    Two hot trends, personalization and frictionless retailing, are at odds with each other

    A degree of friction has a place in retailing -- especially where it enables retailers to get a grip on service. Sitting in some of the GroceryShop sessions, I had the feeling that some proponents of frictionless retailing had neglected to consider what makes store experiences satisfyingly personal. "Personal" and "personalization" are not equivalent. Personalization engines may be exceeding impersonal, even as they succeed at delivering relevant offers or curated assortments. As others here observe, a personal experience may require a slowing down of the selection and selling process. Are cheerful greetings from the grocery checker I see every week friction? They may add 30 seconds to the transaction time. Or are they part of the glue that binds me to the store?
  • Posted on: 09/19/2019

    What is retail’s role in building a better society?

    Stores are local. They rise and fall with the communities they serve. Many do good works out of a sense of pride, others out of "enlightened self-interest." Chains are remote. Some may regard "corporate social responsibility" as a shareholder value checkbox for their annual report. Others may bake CSR into their essential culture out of genuine belief. There's a spectrum of ways that retailers can have a positive effect, ranging from straight-forward charity, to hiring and compensation policies, to merchandising choices, to environmental practices, and more. These decisions may influence brand reputation and ultimately shopper loyalty. As a confirmed cynic, I tend to believe that economic interest usually drives retailers to adopt socially constructive policies. That's OK with me. Sometimes in an organization purity of intent can emerge as the result of positive actions, even if they are undertaken for selfish reasons.
  • Posted on: 09/11/2019

    Will multistory warehouses mean faster deliveries from Amazon, Home Depot and others?

    When I read the headline for this discussion, my first mental image was of a tall 3-dimensional space, with a smaller footprint that uses conveyors/robots to move items in and out of trailers and slots with great rapidity. Ron Margulis describes something similar in his comment here. But the video portrays a stack of separate flat warehouse spaces with loading doors on three levels and vehicle ramps that (to me) resemble those outside New York's Port Authority bus terminal. More expensive to build, I'm sure, than the flat, sprawling, million-square-foot Target and Amazon distribution centers here on the outskirts of Tucson. Putting the D.C. closer to (or within) an urban center may help shave minutes off home delivery times and worker commutes. It may add minutes to the access time of the big trucks. I presume the designers have run the numbers and are satisfied with the trade-off.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2019

    Target leans on vendors in trade war

    Retailers have a long tradition of pressuring suppliers to absorb external cost increases. I recall a past incident when the price of sugar surged (in the 90s?), retailers pushed back on accepting increased candy prices. The current tariff wars present a scenario where retailers have reason to put pressure not just on their U.S. based importers, but on their overseas manufacturers, especially in China. Forcing factories to share the pain is one way to spread the consequences across all parties. A tough stance, but perhaps the hue and cry will help push the governments in question to back off the insanity.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2019

    Social media antics cause grief at Walmart, Target, Home Depot, others

    Wow this really brings out the "old man" knee jerk response in me. While a criminal prosecution crackdown on pranking behavior might sound tempting, I'd prefer to see affected retailers pursue a civil route. Why not sue the perpetrators for the economic damage caused by the prank? Demand treble damages, since the actions are willful, planned attempts to profit at the retailer's expense. A 15-year old might skate on criminal mischief, but highly publicized stories about civil judgments could have a chilling effect on bad behavior. Actions should have consequences. Go after their YouTube profits.

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