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: 08/05/2022

    Will refurbished products deliver ‘good as new’ results for Walmart?

    I'm a big fan of "factory refurbished" and "open box" electronics, like phones and audio gear. Who can argue with "last-year's flagship model at 1/3 the price," with a 90-day warranty? These items are not very hard to find now, but it can be hard to evaluate the reliability of the sellers. By leveraging its reputation and scale, Walmart can kick this secondary market into high gear and make these products much more accessible to their value customers, while earning better margins. While Walmart Restored is positioned as strictly a walmart.com offering, I wonder whether there is an in-store play afoot? There may not be sufficient merchandise consistency to keep items in stock, but an ordering kiosk could be a winner for shoppers.
  • Posted on: 08/03/2022

    The Nordstrom tire return story is true

    There have been any number of tomes published over the years in our industry that describe examples of excellent customer service. (Heck, I wrote one myself in 2004 for the NRF Foundation with 45 service stories.) Nordstrom's tire story is true, yet through repetition it becomes apocryphal. The gender of the customer switches. The amount of the refund is exaggerated. The returned item changes. So what? The emotion of the story matters most. I don't think we need to be cynical about that, but we should consider that the intended audience for this story is 10% customers and 90% retailers. Nordstrom shrewdly propagates this story to inspire its team members and encourage buy in to its service culture.
  • Posted on: 08/02/2022

    Should the cryptocurrency crash scare retailers?

    Crypto is not going away, despite its volatile performance over the past 9 months. Retailers will be hard-pressed to decline any legitimate method of payment from customers over time, so they will have to adapt to the new order. Very low transaction costs could be a prime motivation. The good news, I think, is that cryptocurrencies will gradually evolve from highly speculative investments into more stable and reliable alternative currencies. This must happen, or the entire sector will fail to gain widespread relevance. Managing currency fluctuations by the hour is way too much risk and work for most consumers. Check out coverage of the upcoming Ethereum "merge" for one scenario of how the evolution might happen: https://ethereum.org/en/upgrades/merge/ https://fortune.com/2022/08/01/ethereum-merge-solana-avalanche-tezos-react/ While these changes seem highly technical, they are intended to make Ethereum more secure and more usable at scale. The key questions for retailers: Which cryptocurrencies can we accept, and when should we start?
  • Posted on: 08/02/2022

    Will Amazon deliver same-day results for GNC, PacSun and other retailers?

    When I learned about this new delivery service from Amazon, my first question was, "Do shoppers really care about same-day delivery of items from these retailers?" Then I pivoted to the scenario of Amazon as a "common carrier" of deliveries from local stores. Their vans are already passing through most neighborhoods several times per day, so why not add a handful of packages with near-zero incremental cost of delivery? Then again, Amazon loads its vans at distribution hubs. Those vans (as far as I know) do not pick up items along their routes. This begs the key question: How will items ordered from the participating retail stores get put on those vans? One scenario: Amazon institutes separate pickup routes to gather orders from those stores several times per day and bring them back to local hubs for loading onto delivery vans. Or -- and this would be a somewhat fancier innovation -- some Amazon delivery vans make the pickup stops along their routes. Either way, the orders would need to be rapidly "cross-docked" onto the right delivery vehicles at the hubs. Accuracy of those transfers would be a key challenge at scale. I'm skeptical about whether the juice is worth the squeeze on this one.
  • Posted on: 08/01/2022

    Dynamic pricing may be ‘stuck in the mud somewhere in the swamps of Jersey’

    First of all, I love the headline for this discussion. But I think our discussion so far has not addressed how the resale ("scalping") business has stretched the upper boundaries of ticket prices over the years. Springsteen famously spoke out against ticket scalpers circa 2002, but that did nothing to stop the profiteering. Many big rock and pop acts stood by (in awe?) as entrepreneurial scalpers and ticket agencies gobbled up desirable seats and made 10X or more profit. No wonder that Ticketmaster glommed on to the deal, or that Springsteen's team felt justified in charging what the market would bear. But in doing so, I think the music industry is violating a prime directive of dynamic pricing: protect your price image. I'd argue that the cost to Springsteen's brand of negative publicity about the $5000 ticket incident is greater than the incremental profit he will earn. The root of the problem, I think, is that Ticketmaster has implemented pure dynamic pricing without defined boundaries. The top prices are visible and shocking, but the justification for those prices is opaque to the fan base. This damages trust in the artists by fans who feel betrayed. Somehow, I don't think Ticketmaster cares much how fans feel.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2022

    How important are founders to brand authenticity?

    Plenty of founders of classic brands were SOBs or plain nutty, as Ryan reminds us. Others were just boring. Brand heritage sometimes intersects with odious cultural practices too. So the current generation of brand managers should tread carefully and do their homework before propagating an origin story. I would also caution against creating untrue brand myths. My current favorite is the Folgers Coffee ad from P&G that touts the company's New Orleans legacy. J.A. Folger actually formed his company in San Francisco in 1860. Its Louisiana roasting plant opened a century later. OK that was 73 years ago and they are an important employer, but how is that "authentic?"
  • Posted on: 07/26/2022

    Best Buy offers a new way to shop with its first-ever digital-first small box store

    Yes, the Best Buy small format store concept sounds an awful lot like a digitally enabled catalog showroom, as others here have noted. My recollection of the old Service Merchandise and Consumers Distributing shopping experience was one of sheer tedium: uninspired product displays, leafing through thick catalogs; filling out order chits; and a great deal of waiting around for a carton to appear at the pickup window. But if you needed a new clock radio or some 14-karat jewelry, it was the place to go. For another comparison, consider b8ta, the now defunct "retail as a service" chain that sold consumer electronics products from multiple brands in an environment meant to emulate the Apple Store. It shuttered its brick and mortar operations in February, blaming near-zero foot traffic and multiple burglaries. I sure hope BB's digitized version is more inspiring than that. App integration holds some promise in this regard. Its "Best" aspect is a small footprint and lower labor cost -- great for operational efficiency, but so-so for shopping experience. ***I can't end this comment without expressing how little I think of the Net Promoter Score as a tool for managers: As I've said many times before, "likelihood to recommend" is a summary metric that is incredibly popular with CEOs but which offers zero diagnostic value. Any enterprise that is truly committed to cultivating customer loyalty must commit to look much more deeply into the granular elements of satisfaction and quality for actionable insights.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2022

    Are digital-only coupons discriminatory against the elderly and poor?

    Older consumers may not possess a mastery of how to use digital apps to obtain offers, and poorer consumers may not have access to smart devices that enable access, but all those consumers understand what a loyalty card is. Food retailers especially have a responsibility to ensure that the less-digitally-enabled have a lower-tech alternative they can show at the checkout to obtain at least all the advertised TPRs they can see in the circulars or tagged on the shelf. A crucial aspect of customer service and relationship management is to help those shoppers sign up for those cards. Ideally this could happen immediately after checkout, with a resultant refund on the spot. If some personalized offers and gamification remain more dependent upon digital apps, well OK then.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2022

    When will supply chains return to normal?

    I sincerely hope those long, brittle, vulnerable supply chains never return to "normal." So much is fundamentally wrong with those logistics concepts based on outdated military strategy and "economies of scale" at the point of production that we don't have room here for my full diatribe. Suffice to say that concentrating production while building massive nodes and choke points into a global system is ultimately unsustainable, wasteful and slow. Worse yet, it creates tempting targets for bad actors. The retail consumer products industry must radically reimagine how it brings goods to market. Decentralization and localization of production is key. A "supply web" with hundreds or thousands of hubs will be ultimately much stronger, safer, more resilient and dare I say, cheaper over the long haul. Digital technology offers means to make this possible. I'm convinced that the health and safety of the entire planet depends on this.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2022

    Does Walgreens have the right response to defuse growing calls to boycott the chain?

    A pharmacy tech's self-righteous refusal to fill a patient's legally authorized prescription is not a problem that can be successfully papered over with "crisis PR." This is a matter of corporate policy. Failure to state and enforce ethical pharmacy practices is, in my opinion, a fiduciary violation by top management. The #boycottwalgreens backlash raises some other troubling questions for me. Why did multiple reports about problems with birth control purchases at the chain's stores surface on the heels of the overturn of Roe v Wade? Is this part of a pervasive pattern at Walgreens or just a few egregious incidents?
  • Posted on: 07/08/2022

    Walmart and Target take different approaches to Amazon’s Prime Day

    It's great that major retailers are defining their own promotional strategies for the current summer season. Walmart, Target, and other savvy retailers should not be parroting Amazon's tactics. Not now. Not ever. Back-to-school has long been a perennial July opportunity for mass retailers. That should not change, regardless of Amazon's Prime Day activities. Of course the wrinkle this year is the urgent need to sell down excess inventory. TV consumer reporters have been touting the discounts for weeks now, and I get the feeling that the hype will motivate those shoppers who have the financial flexibility.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2022

    Can up-tempo music move shoppers to buy more green goods?

    While fascinating, the research cited here seems like another classic instance of "it depends." Shoppers' emotional responses to in-store audio will vary greatly according to their age cohort, preferred genres, and other demographics. It would be easy to select a heavy metal soundtrack for a skateboard shop, but much harder to work up a pleasing, middle-of-the-road playlist for a supermarket whose customers range from teens to blue-hairs. I get the insight about the optimism conveyed by lively, major key music. I'm skeptical, however, about the link to sustainable purchase choices.
  • Posted on: 07/06/2022

    H&M discovers it’s not easy being green

    There is one -- and only one -- guaranteed public relations strategy: "Do the right thing." Lying about sustainability is unbelievably stupid, a fiduciary violation, and possibly fraud. If proven true, H&M leadership should be fired and stripped of their shares.
  • Posted on: 07/05/2022

    Is Amazon taking its foot off the Prime Day marketing pedal?

    As we have discussed here: Prime Day has spirited competition this year from the likes of Target's Deal Days, and promotions from Walmart and Best Buy intended to sell down excess inventory. For Amazon, growth YoY of 17% still qualifies as an impressive statistic, even if part of the dollar increase is attributable to price inflation. For the segment of shoppers who have discretionary funds, competing summer sales from the big retail brands are an opportunity. For many working households worried about inflation, I expect the excitement would be more muted. This may be reflected in Amazon's low-key promotional stance for Prime so far. Even the Jon Batiste commercial we saw over the past weekend is purely about awareness.
  • Posted on: 06/30/2022

    Will consumers become even more frugal post-pandemic?

    There are three main constituencies of frugality — those who are desperate to economize, those who think they should, and those for whom bargain-hunting is a sport. I think we are mostly talking about that middle group here. In grocery we see evidence that many shoppers are shifting their choices to less pricey proteins, more store brands, and a preference for ingredients versus packaged prepared foods or restaurant meals. Inflation is the prime factor. Remember your "guns vs. butter" lecture from Econ 101? Right now the trade-off is more like "gas vs. steak." For what it's worth, media coverage of inflation seems to be hammering home the message that folks should keep an eye on their budget choices. I don't think that will slow consumers from patronizing Target's markdown sales or Amazon's Prime Day in the month ahead. Those purchases will feel like "bargains" to many, even if they are entirely non-essential.

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