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 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: 07/18/2018

    Walmart to take another shot at Netflix and Amazon, too

    Walmart is large enough to engage in some "test-and-learn" ventures with regard to streamed digital content. The Vudu platform already enables a log-on using one's credential. Unlike Amazon or Netflix, its free content is ad-supported, which provides an alternate revenue model. Why wouldn't Walmart make an attempt to capture a slice of the streaming content market? The cost of digital goods approaches zero at large volumes. There are some interesting co-advertising possibilities with Walmart suppliers and its private label brands that other existing channels could not execute. I'm not sure if or when Walmart would want to get into the production business, like Amazon, Netflix, Showtime and HBO. For now, operating a digital content store seems like a pretty good bet for the world's largest physical retailer.
  • Posted on: 07/17/2018

    Walmart and Microsoft team up to slow Amazon’s roll

    I believe the timing of the Microsoft-Walmart announcement concurrent with Prime Day is no coincidence. Anything to grab some market attention from Amazon and slow its progress, even a little bit. There's a four-way "air war" underway between AWS, Google, Microsoft's Azure, and IBM. Nipping at their heels are Alibaba, Oracle, Salesforce and a handful of other mid-sized players. With its vast resources, Walmart could have decided to build its own cloud infrastructure, but discretion is the better part of valor. In the announced deal, Microsoft gets a high-volume showcase customer; Walmart keeps its tech focus on stores and proprietary digital experiences. Other retailers may well view this partnership through the same lens that they view AWS. With Azure powering, it may seem wiser to host one's online store in someone else's cloud.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2018

    Did Build-A-Bear destroy its brand with a successful promotion?

    In this instance, I think the "bad" publicity for Build-a-Bear's pay-your-age promotion was mostly a good thing. It generated a ton of media exposure and, in a way, helped to justify the premium positioning of its product. I wouldn't try to repeat it, but in this moment there's a remediation opportunity (the $15 coupons) that may drive even more business and shopper engagement.
  • Posted on: 07/12/2018

    Survey: Customer experience tech rivals personal attention from staff

    Technology is a means, not an end. I strongly agree with your perspective, Art. I honestly can't believe anyone except a few Silicon Valley coders crave a more "tech-forward" shopping experience. In fact, I believe retail tech is most successful when it is so seamless that it fades into the background, and empowers shoppers and staff to succeed with less effort and greater accuracy.
  • Posted on: 07/09/2018

    Amazon lowballs CVS and Walgreens on OTC med prices

    Very well observed, Joel. Amazon may offer many OTC remedies as commodity items, but that won't be an on-ramp to filling prescriptions.
  • Posted on: 07/09/2018

    Is real-time order tracking becoming table stakes for e-tailers?

    Should digital retailers provide order tracking? The answer is an emphatic "yes"! As Tenser's Law of Equivalent Experience states, "A service standard experienced anywhere is expected everywhere." This may not seem fair, but it's an unavoidable reality. Fortunately the major third-party shipping services track every package (except first class mail), so the underlying mechanism is already in place. It's up to each retailer to decide whether it should transmit a text message at each step in the fulfillment/delivery process, or just email a tracking number and link. For me, a real-time map seems like overkill, but for shoppers who are already glued to their screens, maybe it's a form of reassurance. One final thought: For deliveries indoors (like furniture or major appliances) or some that require a signature, live tracking might be extra useful.
  • Posted on: 07/05/2018

    Amazon to start new Christmas tradition with its own toy catalog

    Well observed, Art. The dynamic pricing issue is one of the more intriguing aspects of Amazon's proposed toy catalog. It would be fairly easy to discount off printed prices on the website ("member pricing" or personalized), but near impossible to increase margins on high-demand items late in the season. Amazon could publish a "wish book" without prices. Either option leaves the question of how will it engineer a seamless link from paper to online purchase. Bar codes might work, but it's a clumsy experience at best. Will an Amazon app update be part of the experiment? As Ryan observes, Amazon can afford to treat this as a large-scale experiment, even allowing for the cost of printing and distributing the catalog. Will we see millions of newspaper inserts? Direct mail? One thing seems certain -- Amazon's toy catalog will drive significant share during the pre-holiday season.
  • Posted on: 07/03/2018

    Study claims positive plus-size clothing messages may have a downside

    I too am taken aback by this "study" which seems to imply that advertising images of real women lead to more obesity. No wonder so many folks on this thread are angry! Even the term "plus size" seems a bit offensive to me. How do women tolerate that? I thought retailers exist to serve shoppers' actual needs, not to promulgate an unreachable ideal (that most could not even sell!). The portrayal of fashion on models with varied body shapes seems intrinsically right to me. To infer this creates a negative health message seems intrinsically wrong, regardless of these study findings.
  • Posted on: 07/02/2018

    Will California’s new privacy law set the standard for data protection?

    Data privacy mandates like GDPR and the California law discussed here are tricky because the rules of engagement seem to require that retailers collect more data (specific permissions, opt-outs, history, etc.) in order to manage their customer data bases compliantly. For retailers, what seems like a high-value asset can also be an enormous liability as more data is accrued and the costs of maintenance and security climb. For consumers, the prospect of duplicate profiles co-existing on dozens of retailer websites should be disconcerting. For data pirates, every one of those retailer databases is a tempting target that will eventually yield to hack attack. While most of retailers have swallowed the Kool-Aid about personalization, they have tended to ignore the consequences of the inevitable breech. I think it's time to consider an alternative model in which each shopper or household controls their own secure profile and exposes it selectively at each moment of interaction. These profiles may be protected in the blockchain. Retailers would still maintain customer lists, but with minimal personal data attached, making them easier to maintain and of minimal value to hackers. This is a radical idea, I concede, but there are a few startups working on this concept already. California's privacy law and Europe's GDPR assume the database marketing status quo will endure, but in fact they may tend to accelerate change.
  • Posted on: 06/26/2018

    Analyst: Prime perk could eventually double customers at Whole Foods

    It's cool that Whole Foods is adding a promotional component by leveraging its Amazon Prime relationship portfolio. Sales generate some excitement and extra reasons for Prime members to visit the store. Discounts on popular fresh proteins and seasonal produce items could be influential, but I see no news about price promotions on packaged or frozen foods. Does any one here know whether Whole Foods accepts trade promotion funds from suppliers? I haven't seen any evidence of TPR pricing on my store visits, other than the Prime discount shelf talkers recently added. For now, I conclude that Amazon-era Whole Foods is changing its pricing tactics gradually, but using a few high-profile sales to try to change its price image. Prime customers may visit more often for great prices on salmon or ribs, but converting them into "Prime-ary" shoppers may require more than a few promotions. More visits may not translate automatically into more share of wallet.
  • Posted on: 06/22/2018

    Supreme Court rules e-tailers must collect state sales taxes

    Sorry Joe, but the process will likely be fully automated using algorithms built into the online shopping carts. Check out Avalara, a vendor who has been building its solution for many years in anticipation of a ruling like this. (There are several competitors.) Most merchants won't have to lift a finger, other than subscribing to a cloud-based service and embedding it into its online shopping cart. Accountants will be needed primarily to audit the services, not to file returns. No municipality will want the administrative burden of reviewing a mountain of "zero" returns either, so I firmly believe they will prefer to receive a smaller number of consolidated payments and statements from aggregators.
  • Posted on: 06/22/2018

    Supreme Court rules e-tailers must collect state sales taxes

    Holy crap this is long overdue! I've been tracking and writing about this issue since the 2000 presidential election and it's high time the online sales tax loophole was closed. What's most significant about South Dakota v. WayFair is the ruling that says merchants must collect the sales taxes in effect at the recipient's address. This is VERY important and absolutely the only correct model. It wipes away the antiquated concept of "nexus" required by the 1992 Quill ruling which effectively required customers to file their own sales taxes (an impossibly complex task which made nearly every American a tax cheat). While the ruling seems to focus on state sales taxes, I hope it will ensure that local municipalities will finally collect their correct share of online sales tax revenues as well.
  • Posted on: 06/21/2018

    Home Depot to make same- or next-day deliveries virtually everywhere

    As every DIY fanatic knows all too well, the most time-consuming part of any home project is locating the materials and hauling them home. You can blow half a Saturday picking up a few sticks of lumber or a dozen sacks of landscape mulch. Home Depot already has outstanding store-level inventory and online ordering systems in place. Adding a few special-purpose distribution centers to the mix will permit consumer and contractor shipments of building supplies to originate more rapidly and arrive quicker, when warranted by the job schedule. The future of retail means serving customers in the ways they want to be served in each and every interaction. "Do you want it Fast or Free?" is a question every retailer needs to be prepared to ask.
  • Posted on: 06/20/2018

    Joann Fabrics’ new concept is all about the experience

    Joann Fabrics faces a stark choice: either stand by while their core customer base ages out of the population or courageously reinvent their store concept to appeal to the next generation. Recreating its stores as studios/gathering places for like-minded hobbyists is high-stakes, but there's no doubt I would do the same. I'd even counsel re-vamping the brand to something like "The Sewing Room" to signify the stores as havens for makers. To put the the "maker" culture in perspective, consider the upcoming NBC television series, "Making It" that is slated to launch July 31. It's conceived as a competition show that pits talented crafters on creative projects. Think "Chopped" but with glue guns instead of kitchen knives.
  • Posted on: 06/18/2018

    Microsoft exploring checkout-less technologies

    You can bet that every major digital tech company is looking hard at retail store automation in the wake of the Amazon Go revelations. Not just Microsoft, but Google, Apple, Intel, Cisco and most of the larger store systems companies. Competing retailers are likely to be suspicious of using Amazon's technology (ask a large chain whether they would dare host their cloud systems on AWS). Amazon has plowed the ground for Microsoft and the others by demonstrating the potential for WIWO (walk-in-walk-out) store tech. It's worth noting that Microsoft says its solution locates a significant share of the computing power on the "intelligent edge" -- that's jargon which in this instance means it runs on connected hardware in the stores as opposed to entirely in the cloud. What an amazing bit of newspeak for the digital era! It confirms that some cutting edge solutions still need to be implemented at store level to be effective. Are you listening CIOs?

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