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: 05/17/2018

    Walmart drops Scan & Go tech – again

    You're not alone in this opinion, Paula. I suspect that for many shoppers, the extra effort required to scan items is a minor bummer. As a retailer, I'd prefer my shoppers have their heads up exploring merchandise options as much as possible, versus heads down trying to manipulate the app.
  • Posted on: 05/17/2018

    Ocado to automate Kroger warehouses in exclusive U.S. deal

    Kroger's decision to invest in automated fulfillment centers for online grocery will be massively influential. I suspect today's announcement sends chills down the spines of supermarket executives who have committed to click-and-carry strategies with in-store order fulfillment. For Kroger, however, this is not an either/or proposition. As of December, it already offered its ClickList online ordering in more than 1,000 stores. There are excellent reasons why a large competitor would invest in both approaches simultaneously. Efficient, centralized order-picking using Ocado's impressive "hive" technology could allow Kroger to compete efficiently with Amazon to fulfill non-perishable products anywhere in the country. I imagine it may also enable a "hybrid" strategy, where center-store items are rapidly picked at the fulfillment center and shipped to stores where they are combined with perishable items and readied for shopper pick-up.
  • Posted on: 05/15/2018

    Should Starbucks acquire Blue Apron?

    Both Starbucks and Blue Apron need to evolve their business models for different reasons. Starbucks has a large footprint and loyal customer base and seeks to grow revenue by further diversifying its offerings to encompass more food choices. Blue Apron delivers a high-quality product, but its subscription service doesn't mesh easily with every household, which seems to have limited its growth. As far as I can see, Blue Apron's primary assets are its brand and its core loyal base of customers. I wonder how many of its customers already overlap with Starbucks? The key question in this instance is, "How will this business combination deliver benefits?" It could convert Starbucks stores into a vast pick-up network for Blue Apron meal kits. It could extend the Blue Apron brand into a wider assortment of products. It could support a broader menu of food choices in Starbucks stores. (But does it need to acquire an existing business to do that?)
  • Posted on: 05/10/2018

    Why is Amazon partnering with Sears again?

    The problem with buying automobile tires online is arranging for installation. Amazon has great prices but the logistics are complex for the consumer. The announced deal with Sears Auto Centers is an attempt at a partial fix for this problem. It's only 400 locations nationwide, so it still leaves most geographies un-covered. The Sears shops could probably benefit from some incremental volume in services, but it would only contribute a tiny boost to total company performance. For Amazon, this is yet another learning laboratory wrapped up in a publicity opportunity.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2018

    Walmart associates check out customers on the floor in pilot program

    Sharp observation, Ben. I'm sure the choice of visuals in the short video was no accident. It makes sense to consider the value of on-the-floor checkout for specific types of shopping missions. Could be awkward for a basket piled high with groceries -- the rubber belt and POS scanner is still probably the most efficient way to scan and pay for dozens of items at a time. Yet mobile checkout could be a lifesaver for a half-dozen sacks of garden soil that the associate also helps load into the family SUV. Here again, I'd urge observers to consider that in-store innovations will displace some existing service processes where they add value. However, they will not entirely replace those processes. This is one more signal of what I'd describe as the "de-massification" of retailing.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2018

    When Harry’s met Target and then Walmart

    So digital-first Harry's is pursuing mass distribution in physical stores. Perhaps the brand caretakers have discovered the scale limitations of the online subscription model? Perhaps there's some envy of last year's acquisition of rival Dollar Shave Club by Unilever? It's clear that there is a yawning opening for a second major men's shaving brand in the mass market. Gillette had all but cornered the U.S. market and had driven up the price points in the process -- until it announced price cuts averaging 12% last year. The major impetus behind the move? Disruption by Dollar Shave Club and Harry's. Harry's has some interesting options when it comes to product and design. It could choose to ship banner-specific models to major accounts -- "designer" style to Target; no-frills to Walmart; a middle-of-the-road version to chain drug. It could even reserve a super-premium version for its online subscribers, barbershops, and salons. Handled right, the Harry's brand has potential to force Gillette to react again and attract its share of financial suitors.
  • Posted on: 05/07/2018

    Trader Joe’s and Barneys launch podcasts

    I've always been an aural learner, but I'm not convinced that podcasts will move the needle much for retailers. I do favor storytelling as a technique, but I think retailers need to lean toward visual presentation to engage and attract shoppers. Amazingly, podcast shows presently number more than half a million. So while they are popular, the podcast audience is rather splintered. I can imagine retailer podcasts might make the most sense for "enthusiast" audience segments with deep commitments to lifestyle activities like fashion, cooking, home decor, pet training, fitness, etc. Also, the emerging voice-assistant technology sector could be a "wild card" for the podcast medium. "Alexa, play the latest Barneys podcast," might become a thing. Imagine if you could respond to the program by saying, "Alexa, pause podcast and order me one of those."
  • Posted on: 05/03/2018

    Does Amazon need a robot?

    This is going to drive my dogs bananas. Unless it comes programmed with a "train my pets" module and the patience to repeat commands thousands of times ... Nah, that will drive them crazy too. I also forecast an uptick in the bathrobe business. No more streaking around the house while Vesta is lurking.
  • Posted on: 05/03/2018

    Macy’s latest acquisition is all about STORYtelling

    This is an exciting development. STORY founder and CEO Rachel Shechtman is a remarkable talent. She gave an impressive presentation at the Global Retailing Conference in Tucson a couple of weeks back. Senior Macy's execs were in attendance (but not Mr. Gennette). She's an exceptional creative force, but translating the STORY concept into something that can be reproduced across a large chain will not be a trivial undertaking. As she explained, STORY is not a "pop-up" concept, despite headlines that have appeared elsewhere. It's a fixed retail location that presents a completely original merchandising concept every few months, each sponsored by a brand or a group of brands. It makes money on the sponsorship, not on product sales. Will be interesting to see how this gets translated at Macy's. I think it might be helpful to think of STORY as an in-store media channel, rather than a merchandising concept. It's possible that repurposing excess space for this "experiential" concept may bring in more sponsor revenue than the same square footage could generate from conventional merchandise sales. Will the new motto for Macy's be, "The Worlds Largest STORY"?
  • Posted on: 05/01/2018

    Can retailers appeal to both ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ shoppers?

    Is it about "fast" versus "slow" shoppers or "fast" versus "slow" occasions? I'd be skeptical about using a demographics alone to get a handle on this analysis. Each shopper "experience" will be judged in regard to how well it met their need or intention in the moment. With that caveat, this discussion points to a very significant aspect of retailing that is not often analyzed -- PACE. Products turn at varying rates related to how they are consumed or used. Shoppers return at varying frequency, depending upon how often their needs reoccur. Too many generalizations about "retailing" and "retail experience" ignore these distinctions. Not every retailer needs to design its offering to appeal to both fast and slow moments. Convenience stores don't attract many browsers, and jewelry stores don't attract many grab-and-go clients. Some retail environments -- notably mass merchants -- may cater to a mix of need states, which makes their challenge more complex. Retailers may find merchandising or promotional opportunities to slow "fast" shoppers down a little bit to win incremental purchases or to prod "slow" visitors to take more immediate action. Action begins with recognizing the difference.
  • Posted on: 04/30/2018

    Walgreens tests lower prices, membership savings

    Walgreens' test is fascinating and potentially disruptive. I'd add overdue, as well, since I've been mostly unimpressed by its Balance Rewards loyalty program. It could use a shot in the arm, IMO. There are so many moving parts to this that it's hard to know where to begin. Start maybe with the stores' many roles as pharmacy; healthcare destination; neighborhood convenience store; variety store; photo lab; and soon, private post office and mobile phone service center. Consider the role of price competition in a sector where many visits are driven by the choice of pharmacy, which is further directed by health plan membership. Would a $20 investment in membership influence those trip decisions much? Well, I guess that's why it's a test. I am in favor of tightening the assortment somewhat, as I perceive some very slow movers on the shelves. Plus you need to make room for the planned Sprint and FedEx counters. This should be done mindfully, as others here point out -- it's bad business to disappoint shoppers on key items. Some of the business practices being tested in Gainsville will gain more traction than others. My money is on broadening services. With more reasons to visit, perhaps prices won't need to be driven to the rock bottom.
  • Posted on: 04/24/2018

    Will pickup drive e-grocery’s growth?

    Store pickup is likely the winning approach for suburban supermarkets, especially, but it adds operational complexity to stores in an industry that can barely master on-shelf availability. Maybe this is a good thing. The pressure to fulfill online orders at the store level without substituted or missing items may force supermarkets to finally adopt store-level perpetual inventory and automated ordering practices. A word of caution to any retailer contemplating either a third-party picking and delivery partner, or a turnkey solution for click-and-collect: Get your stores right first, lest you introduce a shopping experience that could diminish your reputation and undermine trust.
  • Posted on: 04/23/2018

    Apocalypse? No. Retail faces a reset

    Good observation, Ken. Perhaps our industry is at a "tipping point."
  • Posted on: 04/23/2018

    Apocalypse? No. Retail faces a reset

    Gratified to see the strong response to this article. I wish more BrainTrusters could have been present here in Tucson to hear Mr. Schwarztrauber. It was one of the more cogent talks I've heard in a long time. I was particularly taken by his emphasis on "experiential stories" and planning around "moments." Both are different ways of thinking about the retailer's mission that put shopper interaction to the forefront. Making these activities systematic and measuring their efficacy will be a key area of innovation for retailers who lead the pack. If that seems a bit uncomfortable to the traditionalists out there, I submit it's way better than being among the 80,000 store closures.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2018

    Honoring women

    Warren, you deserve credit, I think, for a forthright statement about the mind-trap that we stumble into when we try to compensate for our unconscious biases. Plenty of magazines have published "Women of the Year" special reports, and I think those articles are welcomed by most readers. Yet the act of calling out successful women as extraordinary seems to carry its own innate bias. And I'd never want to profile a businesswoman primarily because she has overcome the "misfortune" of being born to a disadvantaged gender. On balance, then, as a fellow "recovering journalist" I'm with you. It's a good thing to periodically shine a spotlight on women who excel in the workplace. Not because it should be surprising (it's not!) or rare, but because the conversation elevates us all and opens our minds to the true meaning of merit. Gosh, I hope I'm not being a jerk when I say this, but it's probably up to female readers to determine the validity of the upcoming magazine coverage. If you tell true stories about individuals who show great talent and leadership, I think you'll be judged favorably.

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