PROFILE

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, 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: 01/13/2022

    Has ‘just-in-case’ replaced ‘just-in-time’ inventory management?

    Sure, it makes intuitive sense to adjust the "error bars" somewhat to make the supply lines more resilient, but "safety stock" is a dreadful misnomer, as it ensures a higher tie-up of working capital and leads to product perishability and markdowns. That's why just-in-time sourcing, brittle as it may be, has been so attractive to retailers and manufacturers. But there is another damaging practice at work that acts as a force-multiplier when things go off the rails -- the mindless pursuit of economies of scale. Super-sized container ships are the poster children for this, as last year's Ever Given Suez debacle and the bottlenecks at U.S. Pacific ports have painfully proved. A new thought process is needed around supply chain resiliency. Less concentrated sourcing and transportation methods would allow the system to be more self-healing. Can we envision alternative means to lower transportation costs and also shorten lead times? Putting on my futurist goggles, I foresee a next wave of economic evolution that prizes less concentration of systems and capital, not more. Scale is no longer the best answer, as it leads to colossal bets and colossal failures.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2022

    What tech must restaurants put on their menu of services?

    Yes, those QR code menus feel intrusive to me (who wants another PDF cluttering up their phone storage?). And I agree strongly with the sentiment that a meal out (any meal?) should be a time to mute and pocket the phones and interact with fellow diners. Printed menus engender conversation about the food choices too -- a pleasant ritual. Pay at the table can be a true enhancement, although absolutely hate those greasy screens bolted to the tables at some chain restaurants. The best experience so far is when the server brings a hand-held terminal to the table after the meal and lets you swipe your card (or tap your phone) and discreetly add a gratuity. Has anyone invented a digital equivalent to those little portfolios nicer restaurants use to deliver the cheque? I'd argue for a similar form factor, which would allow diners a few private moments to consider how much to tip.
  • Posted on: 01/11/2022

    Reality hits omnichannel retail with a hard truth

    Yes on every point, Ryan. From the shopper's perspective, all that matters is that they interact successfully with one retail brand. So the configuration and ownership of back-of-the-house operations are of little interest as long as transactions, fulfillment, and customer service work flawlessly. Things go wrong for the shopper experience when separate entities are organized to favor passing the buck over taking responsibility. This can be infuriating for customers. It certainly can undermine the shop-any-channel, buy-any-channel, return-any-channel ideal that omnichannel (sorry) is supposed to reflect.
  • Posted on: 01/10/2022

    Has BOPIS lost its pandemic boost?

    Lots to unpack when examining these BOPIS survey responses. First - As others observe here, the usefulness of order pickup at or in-store varies greatly by the type of retail purchase. Having a grocery order loaded into your car trunk on the way home from work or school is a fine form of convenience. Ditto for that flat-screen TV you bought for the holidays. Parking and entering a mall department store to get that sweater you ordered...not so much. Second - At-store pickup certainly got a boost from the pandemic, but its popularity was rising before and it will endure with or without the germ. In fact, could not have spiked as it did if retailers had not already been implementing fulfillment solutions before anyone ever heard of COVID-19. Third - Picking up digital orders inside a store is usually a dumb choice for shoppers, as it negates most of the promised convenience by adding new friction. Drive-up is a boon, however, if the retailer times order readiness well. Fourth - Most poor shopper experiences with digital ordering during the first pandemic panic were less the result of poor fulfillment practices and more a result of weak inventory management practices combined with supply shortages. Shoppers can't know that, of course, but omni-retailers need to clean up their act, operationally speaking. All in all, at-store pickup will continue to be a boon for shoppers who are frequently in their vehicles. Its enduring value lies in time-saving convenience, not germ-avoidance. Of course surge behaviors have leveled off, but there is no un-ringing the bell. This is a mandatory skill set for all retailers.
  • Posted on: 01/03/2022

    Hy-Vee creates its own armed security squad to deter crime

    As a shopper, I'd likely avoid entering any store with visibly armed security, as it sends a message that the environment is unsafe. Hy-Vee will need to (has?) weigh the loss of business this decision may create against the actual cost of shoplifting. Then again, I am not deterred by seeing an armed guard in a bank. Then again, banks are not self-service retail environments. There is no presumption of trust. The grocery store model is based on low-friction, self service selling. This does depend on trust -- that shoppers will dutifully select and present their items at checkout and pay for them. Social pressure helps the equation, but for shoppers under economic duress, this can be outweighed by sheer need. Maybe community outreach would be a more effective way for Hy-Vee to build trust and lifetime customer value. They should run those numbers.
  • Posted on: 12/22/2021

    Should Nordstrom spin off Nordstrom Rack?

    Well if my most recent visit to a local Nordstrom Rack store is any indication, it's on the brink of failure anyway. I could not believe how utterly disappointing the assortment was. Quite a contrast to a few years ago, when I was able to purchase high-quality suits, shoes and sportswear -- not cheap, but at attractive discounts. As I see it, Nordstrom faces a dilemma. Either it formulates a strategy for operating its whole business with synergy and purpose, or it hacks off the diseased limb (thanks for the metaphor, Ryan). Incidentally, we have been hearing in recent months of over-buying by apparel retailers in attempts to offset supply chain delays. They also have been leasing more warehouse space to store the anticipated excess inventory in the coming year. That should present a bonanza for off-pricers, including N.Rack. Maybe the board should pause and consider that a rebound is possible?
  • Posted on: 12/22/2021

    Do Americans now prefer strip center shopping?

    Open-air shopping centers have plenty of appeal in warmers climes and warmer seasons. Here in Southern Arizona we have seen at least one enclosed mall transformed into an open-air concept (with shaded walkways). We have also seen a regional mall transformed into a hybrid "lifestyle" center that combines enclosed space with exterior storefronts on the perimeter, enabling a blend of quick drive-up patronage and longer visits. But these options fit better in regions with little or no snowfall and plenty of elbow room. Indoor malls still have reasons-to-be in cooler, wetter parts of the country. I suspect many owners of large regional malls are formulating plans to re-configure their spaces. Big anchor stores, especially, may need to be divided or razed in some cases. My notion would be to convert some of those to parking decks, freeing spaces now covered in asphalt for other perimeter destinations like restaurants, fitness, and health centers.
  • Posted on: 12/15/2021

    Will grocers turn to Amazon as an alternative to Instacart?

    I suggested a very long time ago in my VStoreNews e-letter that supermarket chains had the potential to co-deliver e-commerce packages along with grocery orders. Amazon flipped that script by investing far more boldly in its nationwide distribution capabilities. Instacart had better watch its back. Amazon is clearly coming after them now, and it will succeed at slowing their growth. While the battle plays out, it's worth remembering that grocers are rightfully wary about allowing their shopper interactions to be intermediated by anyone. There are very practical, turnkey options now to control their own digital ordering, order fulfillment and pick-up/delivery systems and link them tightly to shopper loyalty programs. That's one reason why Instacart is re-making its business model so assertively. It's also a key reason why Amazon Fresh Marketplace won't attract many grocery chains.
  • Posted on: 12/15/2021

    Will grocers turn to Amazon as an alternative to Instacart?

    Change all the "Amazon"s in your post to "Walmart"s and re-read. Almost sounds like a flashback to the mid-'90s, don't it?
  • Posted on: 12/13/2021

    Should gig workers choose flexibility or protections?

    As any freelance writer knows all too well, gig work comes without fringe benefits and "flexibility" is a two-edged sword. It gets tricky to manage when several clients have overlapping and highly variable demands. It gets worse when clients withhold or alter payment without cause or recourse. Gig workers face similar challenges. I have noted many drivers with both Uber and Lyft decals in their windows. They are putting a living together by working for both services. Similar for DoorDash and Uber Eats delivery people. If this is today's reality, which contract employer should be expected to provide health coverage and PTO? The definition of "full-time employment" gets slippery too, for workers paid by trip or per delivery. I believe freelancers of all kinds could benefit from "union" (or "co-op") representation. In today's world there should be an app for that -- with built-in gig-tracking, access to fairly-priced group health insurance, disability coverage, and a way to accrue and consolidate PTO hours. All in proportion to the services delivered on behalf of each gig employer. In this scenario, the co-op would negotiate master contracts with gig employers. Gig workers would present their digital co-op I.D. as proof of their professional standing. Individuals with strong ratings and a history of reliability (i.e. more profitable employees) would qualify for preferred pay rates. The negotiated framework should define clear service standards, benefit employers who are committed to high service quality and fair labor practices, while rewarding workers who represent the business with a high degree of professionalism.
  • Posted on: 12/07/2021

    Can Safeway slam the door shut on shoplifters?

    I haven't heard yet of any flash-mob looting of a grocery store, but I'm certain that common shoplifting is not rare in some neighborhoods. If Safeway has been losing money in certain stores due to theft, it can't be blamed for trying new tactics. There is some irony here, of course, that a retail business model predicated on self-service would need to be modified with gates, traffic barriers, cameras, etc. If those anti-theft measures create a feeling of security for shoppers, they will likely be well accepted. If the design of those measures creates a menacing atmosphere, some shoppers (likely the biggest spenders) will seek alternative locations.
  • Posted on: 11/22/2021

    Should Macy’s de-omnify?

    I'm expect this reasoning underlies the proposal now being considered by Macy's, David. The move at Saks no doubt had a similar justification. A key question that Gwen Morrison and I grappled with in preparing this piece was how two separated entities can maintain brand continuity. Is it really a simple matter of processes and technology? Effective data-sharing across silos is a huge challenge within retail organizations. I personally foresee this challenge expanding over time as the interests of two independent entities diverge.
  • Posted on: 11/18/2021

    Starbucks and Amazon open first joint concept store with more to come

    Two separate transactions conducted in the same space is not my definition of ultimate convenience. But the Starbucks-Amazon mashup has intriguing potential. Starbucks has offered a rather limited food menu for very practical reasons, so the proximity of grab-and-go meals and snacks can be a plus for customers. Amazon Go is re-defining the convenience store concept, but so far I don't think it has offered bespoke hot beverages. Success will be a function of behavioral engineering, which comes down to time-saving convenience. If coffee drinkers who stand around for 2-5 minutes waiting for their cups find it attractive to step into the merchandise aisle to nab a bite to eat from an attractive assortment, the concept might fly. Assuming response to this test is positive, the next step comes down to Starbucks's ability to re-fit thousands of existing locations with Amazon Go areas and keep those properly stocked during all day-parts. I imagine the sales-per-square-foot will be significantly higher than the in-store seating areas.
  • Posted on: 11/01/2021

    What’s really behind Facebook’s rebrand to Meta?

    I for one am a little bit irked about Facebook's power move to try to own the word "Meta" as its corporate brand. Checking the USPTO TESS trademark database, I find at least 10 existing live trademark registrations for the stand-alone term by other entities in several industries. There are at least three existing trademarks for the term "Metaverse" as well. It is quite possible that a business with Facebook's sheer might believes it can gain control of these marks by applying a combination of financial and legal leverage. But it raises a question for me: Did Zuckerberg rush the announcement before it put those particular ducks in a row? Could recent scrutiny over Facebook's business practices be a reason?
  • Posted on: 11/01/2021

    What’s really behind Facebook’s rebrand to Meta?

    Very astute, Ananda. The announced metaverse seems like a calculated distraction from the true corporate strategy.

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