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: 10/13/2021

    Stores? Kroger don’t need no stinking stores

    Mr. McMullen tipped his hand about Kroger's digital-first strategy in his keynote appearance at GroceryShop last month. “The sheds are also a way into new markets,” McMullen said. “There is one third of the U.S. we are not yet in today. Our aspiration is to feed the whole nation one step at a time.” I view this as a very deliberate, "tip-of-the-spear" strategy intended to gain a rapid foothold in attractive geographies while skimming the largest, most profitable baskets from incumbent omnichannel grocery operators. If it succeeds, it could drive down the market value of existing competitors, lowering their acquisition costs. Long game is to become the first nationwide omnichannel grocery business to "feed the whole nation."
  • Posted on: 09/27/2021

    How bad will product shortages get this time?

    This morning the Today Show ran a piece about the "Cargo Ship Logjam" which warned of likely product shortages to come and urged shoppers to stock up now on consumables and holiday gifts. Ironic, since that story seems likely to trigger just the sort of consumer panic that can exacerbate the problem. The core issue is not a lack of goods -- the container ships anchored offshore are full -- but a shortage of labor to unload ships and transport products once they land here. Also, many empty containers are stuck on the wrong side of the oceans, which has stranded some finished goods in their source countries. I think we can expect his problem to persist through the upcoming holiday season. For Americans the impact will mostly be reduction of choice and somewhat higher prices, not an absolute inability to obtain essential products.
  • Posted on: 09/27/2021

    Madewell launches a circular shopping experience with thredUP

    This reminds me of the hockey skate exchanges in some communities with youth leagues. Not every children's garment will be suitable for re-selling, but, as Nikki posits, the Madewell experiment could point the way toward a new business model for fashion brands.
  • Posted on: 09/03/2021

    Is ‘groundedness’ the antidote trend to digital whiplash?

    Right on, brother. We all want to get back to our roots sometimes, but this sounds like a downward spiral that ends with "ground-washing" by brands. I do wonder sometimes, though, whether the expansive global supply chain reinforces human feelings of disconnection.
  • Posted on: 09/03/2021

    California aims to mandate gender-neutral toy sections

    Wow! Talk about a solution without a problem. Have any of the advocates actually shopped a toy department recently? There are already (and always have been) shelves and sections of toys that are not designed to appeal to a particular gender. Yes the bicycles may come in pink or blue models, but they are merchandised together. Board games: gender neutral. Baby and toddler toys: organized by age group. Children's books: growing more gender neutral and "woke" by the day. And yes there are sections too for girls' dolls and boy's action figures. So what? I couldn't call this "massive government overreach" because it is so utterly trivial.
  • Posted on: 08/23/2021

    Has Old Navy charted a course for all retail to follow on plus-sizes?

    Fashion retailers have struggled to let go of the glamour fantasy and that has led them to poorly serve "real" folks who don't fit the physical mold. Since that is most people, it's high time that MORE apparel retailers like Old Navy re-cast their size mixes. Yes, Ryan, the branding in the ad is not my favorite either, but offering the people what they need and want is sound merchandising. One wrinkle I haven't seen addressed here is how much item proliferation results from expanded size ranges. This may be tricky to manage. Automated inventory intelligence will be an essential enabler to manage ordering quantities and minimize markdowns.
  • Posted on: 08/23/2021

    Are Home Depot and Lowe’s about to hit a sales wall?

    Event-driven sales surges are commonly followed by periods of levelling off. That's not the same thing as "hitting the wall" on sales. I'm generally bullish on the DIY sector. Same for home furnishings. But the sales chart won't be a straight upward line. It never is.
  • Posted on: 08/05/2021

    Can a reinvented bag revamp sustainable retail?

    I'd lean toward the "cold-turkey" approach that Venky proposes. Just ban 'em. Let the people figure it out. But also offer polyester canvas totes for a couple of bucks that can be ground up and recycled when they wear out. Natural Grocers sells a collapsible rectangular tote with stiffened sides and strap handles that safely holds the equivalent of two large paper sacks or about 6 plastic ones. They perform so well that I use them at other stores, or even when picking up take-out food from restaurants. Based on observation, I think that many shoppers were just starting to "get" the routine of reusable grocery bags and totes until COVID caution forced a shift in behavior. It's time to get back on track. We don't need a high-tech solution for this, bur retailers do need to establish a norm and kindly reinforce it. Shoppers know plastic bags are bad news. They just need a little nudge.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2021

    Have indie bookstores found answers to counter Amazon?

    Amazon's platform is so "search and transact" oriented that it leaves open space for the curation, atmosphere and service that physical bookstores provide. I think there is a lane for independents -- especially in denser urban settings. Going online with a platform like Bookstore.org may not drive massive incremental sales volume, but it provides the high-caliber digital services expected by existing customers.
  • Posted on: 07/20/2021

    Is it time for retailers to reinstate pandemic protocols?

    Yes, mask-wearing and distancing should remain the cultural norm in all retail spaces if the pandemic science is our prime consideration. Retailers don't have the ability to enforce this standard unilaterally, however. They need "cover" like the L.A. County mandate. For that matter, L.A. County could use some cover too -- clear guidelines from the State level and above. The more uniform the standard, the better for retailers whose footprints cover multiple jurisdictions. Of course, the obstacle is political will. Every mandate harms someone and leaders are reluctant to be perceived as the direct cause. It has proven easier to accept indirect harm from the virus because it diffuses the blame. Retailers ultimately serve the entire population, including vaccine skeptics and opponents of masks. It can't be comfortable to exclude those individuals at the store level, and it is patently unfair to ask staffers to enforce such rules. Hero pay is not a great answer any more. We know how to keep employees reasonably safe from the bug. Retailers just can't overcome our wider political failures with even the most proactive policies.
  • Posted on: 07/19/2021

    Is the Walmart/Justice tie-up a harbinger of more retailer brand partnerships?

    Walmart has vast distribution power and wants compelling brands to sell. Justice has brand fans in its demographic, but lacks a distribution network. Seems like a good match, but one that is likely to have a limited life cycle. There is plenty of precedent for exclusive brand distribution in mass merchants and department stores. Calling this one a "partnership" doesn't change the fundamentals much. It will be interesting to track how much co-marketing activity is devoted to the Justice brand and whether Walmart positions it as a BTS reason to shop.
  • Posted on: 07/15/2021

    What does it take to successfully rent customers on social commerce platforms?

    Don't pull your punches, Paula! Consumers "own" the retailer relationships and they always have. Affective and behavioral loyalty are indeed as ephemeral as butterflies, which means adept use of social discovery and social commerce can be effective ways to pry shoppers loose. With that in mind, Jason is correct that the CLV equation may vary greatly depending upon the type of purchase. Many products don't naturally lend themselves to frequent repeat buys, so preference must be earned again at each occasion. Staying top-of-mind between those moments of truth requires creation of continuous opportunities to see. Social media can be a cost-effective way for brands to accomplish that.
  • Posted on: 07/15/2021

    Will retailers and brands pay a steep price for greenwashing?

    Many retailers talk the talk when it comes to environmental responsibility. Far fewer walk the walk. The best way to turn sincere intent into meaningful action is to measure the impact of initiatives and publish the results:
    • If a retailer reduces shrink by adopting inventory optimization practices, that certainly improves their profits, but how much waste and energy use is eliminated in the process?
    • If a retailer re-designs its private-label packaging to eliminate use of non-recyclable plastics, what is the net impact in terms of carbon, landfill space, and impact on the oceans?
    • If a big box retailer installs photovoltaics on all its store rooftops, how many kilowatt hours of electricity would it generate? How much can air conditioning costs be trimmed when the panels cast shade on the buildings?
    • If a huge digital retailer ;) advances a proactive program to collect and recycle corrugated shipping cartons, how many millions of trees can be saved?
    In the absence of facts about their outcome, these stories are "greenwashing." When their impact is measured, indexed and shared, the same stores are proof that consumers can rely upon when deciding where to shop.
  • Posted on: 07/14/2021

    When will predictive models become more predictable?

    In the Incredible Dissolving Store, predictive models can handcuff decision making by locking the organization into a finite set of assumptions based on inward-looking, historical trends. If adaptation to emergent market conditions requires that the model be re-constructed by human beings, that's a huge watch-out. Business forecasting remains an essential discipline, but errors can become systematic and recursive -- as when poor inventory data results in worse space, assortment, and pricing decisions, which in turn undermine the integrity of the demand signal. There is a role here for AI and machine learning to enable better and faster decision making. Models based on data-mining (versus human designed "algorithms") have potential to enable faster response to market shifts and more accurate predictions. The critical factors for forecasting may lie outside the enterprise. One may imagine that the critical indicator for a merchandising decision may be a trend detected on social media. Much more predictive than sales history from your POS.
  • Posted on: 07/14/2021

    Will ending non-competes be good for retail workers and their bosses?

    With only a few exceptions, non-compete agreements should be outlawed as they are not "agreements," but a one-sided imposition of employer power. The exceptions are important, however, for associates in highly strategic areas such as R&D, new product development, cyber security, and corporate strategy. For many of those folks, non-disclosure agreements may suffice instead. For others, non-competes may be justifiable, but exclusivity must have a price. It should be part of an employment contract that protects the employee and have reasonable time limits. I'd venture that 99% of retail workers should never be asked to sign a non-compete clause in exchange for their jobs. Any retail employer that wants to attract and keep the best associates should avoid them.

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