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: 12/10/2019

    Chipotle asks sick employees to call the nurse

    Chipotle's nurse-on-call benefit for employees is a commendable idea. The discussion so far skirts a core issue, however: A prime reason retail and fast-food organizations tend to tacitly discourage sick-outs has to do with shift management. It's hella hard for a store manager to arrange last-minute coverage for a staffer who calls in sick. To make this work as intended, Chipotle should address this well-intended new policy from the operational side too. It probably begins with a state-of-the art mobile app. An offer of bonus pay or OT to associates who cover for colleagues at the last minute would help too.
  • Posted on: 12/10/2019

    Did Aviation Gin just make lemonade from Peloton’s lemons?

    When Peleton was introduced a few years ago as a sponsor of the Tour de France broadcasts, it was positioned toward hyper-competitive amateur athletes (mainly, but not exclusively male). The recent ad tried to position it as a luxury gift purchase. First mistake. It came across not as thoughtful, but as manipulative. A "50 Shades of Gray" moment, if you will. Only with different equipment. The Twitterverse reacted emotionally, creating a perfect opening for Aviation Gin (or any other brand that could jump fastest). Kudos to Ryan Reynolds and his team, who leveraged a unique social media opportunity to build their niche brand, with just a few paid media placements. I think in the process they may even have helped Peleton patch up its image slightly. Biggest winner: the actress Monica Ruiz, who got paid twice and viewed a whole lot by the public, without sacrificing her dignity.
  • Posted on: 12/04/2019

    Will Grinches steal Christmas from America’s front porch?

    I read the NYT article this week feeling a mix of outrage and irony. Porch piracy has become a meaningful drag on "friction-free" e-commerce. I loved reading that many stolen items, still in their original packaging, wind up for sale again online. #geniusthieves In private homes, one obvious solution is a through-the-wall home package locker mounted near the front door or garage. Not a brand-new idea, but IoT connectivity would add to the security and might even enable returns pickups. Retrofitting to apartments is harder. Just leaving packages piled on the floor is plain dumb. We've heard about lobby lockers, but they can be a tight fit in smaller, older buildings. In tight urban neighborhoods, I'd opt for street-facing kiosks on every corner.
  • Posted on: 12/04/2019

    Do independent liquor stores need a rehab?

    Hemp-infused brews could be the big opportunity, but complying with regulations for both weed and alcohol may present a conundrum.
  • Posted on: 12/03/2019

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: Kohl’s vs. Macy’s

    I enjoyed watching the Macy's well-crafted mini-movie, but I think Kohl's "shopping-as-a-competitive-sport" approach wins for advertising effectiveness. The two could not be more different. I think Kohl's is communicating to the sensibilities of its core shoppers, while Macy's is sharing a sentimental tale.
  • Posted on: 11/27/2019

    Why did’s fresh delivery service go stale in NYC?

    As the development underscores, digital grocery seems like one business, but it is really an amalgam of two "cultures": shelf-stable and perishable, each with its own fulfillment challenges and methods. Most online shoppers test the water with shelf-stable groceries, and most retailers do pretty well at fulfilling the promise. Packaged products are consistent, machine-readable, robotics-friendly, they require little or no temperature control, and can be shipped via third parties. Digital sales of perishable products present a whole other proposition. They are non-standard, fragile and prone to spoilage. I've seen data recently that confirms that digital penetration of fresh products lags behind shelf-stable in the U.S., U.K., France, Spain, and Italy. The reasons come down to shopper mistrust about handing over the product selection process over to a remote stranger. Retailers generally admit they are not very good at this yet. Keeping products at the right temperature and shock-protected during staging and transport adds greatly to the cost. Walmart and have re-learned an important food retailing lesson, this time about doing digital fresh grocery fulfillment at scale: In grocery, the individual tasks aren't all that hard, but they are numerous and they are relentless. The intricacy can kill you.
  • Posted on: 11/26/2019

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: Old Navy vs. T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods

    Both of these commercials have been in heavy rotation for the past few days. Both have grown irritating because of the forced enthusiasm they convey. Sure, holiday commercials are supposed to be cheerful, but not tiring to watch. On balance I give the TJX spot an edge, because at least it incorporates some holiday spirit. The Old Navy spot seems to offer gifts as self-gratification. It could just as well be about Singles Day in China.
  • Posted on: 11/25/2019

    Why is Sephora paying associates to leave shoppers alone?

    I'm not sure I'm in favor of color-coding shoppers. I'd install wireless call buttons on the hand-baskets instead. When a shopper has a question he or she can just ping and the nearest mobile-equipped staffer can step up. A little training refinement might help too. How about changing the greeting script to: "Welcome. Let me know if you need anything." That flips the shopper response from "No thanks" to "Yes I will."
  • Posted on: 11/25/2019

    Private label foods need work

    I view the "same-as-but-cheaper" approach to private label packaged foods as pretty much a bankrupt strategy. OK for items like flashlight batteries, perhaps, but who really needs another no-name frozen pizza? The store brands most praised in this discussion are strongly associated with the stores themselves, and they in turn, stand for something, positioning-wise. When an own-label product successfully exemplifies, "this is how we take good care of our customers," it's on the right track. Even better when shoppers want to come to your stores because of those store-branded products they can't find elsewhere. It's rare that retailers can be first to market with a wholly new product concept, but they can jump on emerging trends with superior execution and value.
  • Posted on: 11/20/2019

    CBD and plant-based meats are the next big things in store brands

    Both CBD-infused products and plant-based meat-like products are presently commanding premium prices at retail. That leaves tempting price gaps just underneath where store brands love to play. I'd be shocked if there weren't a wave of new private label entries in these sectors. There is a point of difference, however. They are so far driven by startup or "disruptor" brands. As major CPG houses buy in to these categories (and they will) the marketing noise will intensify and the pricing headroom may be compressed. Retailers may have a rare (but short) window to establish their CBD store brands ahead of the big brand marketers.
  • Posted on: 11/20/2019

    Will a hack ruin Macy’s Christmas?

    Another day, another data hack. Seems like the only people getting upset are Wall Street investors (and I suspect some of them are using this incident as an opportunity to create volatility). For the rest of us, any real presumption of data privacy has been out the window for years. Macy's is handling this matter appropriately under the circumstances. It needs to keep its eye on the prize this holiday season, and not use this data breach as an excuse for lackluster performance.
  • Posted on: 11/18/2019

    Will a purpose-driven site do good for Zappos?

    I appreciate the premise, and I believe "conscious consumption" will be a win for Zappos. The jarring part, for me, is the implication that non-Goods for Good products in the assortment are therefore morally inferior.
  • Posted on: 11/13/2019

    What happens now that Nike has called off its deal with Amazon?

    Nike is making a strategic move by backing away from the platform. It may have enough clout on its own to make it work, but its departure may also leave a power void on Amazon that others will rush in to fill. That could include Amazon PL products, as well as rival sporting goods brands. Since Amazon is very often the first search location that shoppers access when looking for products, Nike must have calculated that its own brand equity will be strong enough to be "found" elsewhere. Consumer direct can be a perilous choice. Intermediaries deserve to exist to the extent that they add value for the brands they distribute. It will be interesting to observe whether Nike can improve its fortune by stepping back from the world's largest distribution platform.
  • Posted on: 11/08/2019

    Gap Inc.’s CEO steps down. What comes next?

    "Operational excellence is not a strategy." - Michael Porter It is a necessity, however. All retailers need to stand for something in the hearts and minds of shoppers. Gap and its brands appear to have slid into the mediocre middle while the plumbing was being repaired. I'm with Dick and Paula on this - put the merchants back in charge.
  • Posted on: 11/08/2019

    Ralph Lauren offers consumers a DIY counterfeit-checking tool

    I like this idea a lot, but I do worry that a cottage industry may soon arise to produce counterfeit tags for counterfeit products. Some further thoughts: QR codes require active engagement from the shopper in the store using an app. They are an after-the-fact check for any product purchased online. Despite some limitations, this is an initiative worth supporting, since it will surely make life harder for counterfeiters and may make them easier to catch and shut down.

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