PROFILE

Herb Sorensen

Scientific Advisor Kantar Retail; Adjunct Ehrenberg-Bass; Shopper Scientist LLC

Herb Sorensen is the winner of the 2013 Charles Coolidge Parlin Award and the 2007 EXPLOR Award, both from the American Marketing Association. He was also listed among Fast Company’s 2004 Top 50 Innovators.

Herb began his career as a chemist with interests in quantum mechanics, electronic structures and metabolism. From the faculty of Colorado State University in 1971 he moved into the business world as a board certified clinical chemist, subsequently establishing his own consulting and laboratory business providing product development and other services (including consumer surveys) to the packaged goods industry.

Since the late 1970’s Dr. Sorensen’s market research has focused on shoppers at their points-of-purchase. Hence, the continuing interest of his “in-store research company” in shoppers and their relationships to the stores they shop in and the products they buy.

Herb has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, a master’s degree in biochemistry and nutrition from Nebraska and undergraduate majors in chemistry and mathematics. He has been an active member of the American Marketing Association and other associations for many years. His papers and presentations have addressed a wide range of topics, most recently his electronic shopper tracking system, PathTracker®.

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  • Posted on: 05/19/2020

    Is Amazon about to buy J.C. Penney?

    I think this is ignoring the anti-trust issues that are facing Amazon. Retaining the J.C. Penney name would at least provide some PR cover. Plus, the intention to license Amazon GO! technology to non-Amazon retailers would fit right into all this!
  • Posted on: 04/28/2020

    Will the new normal look a lot like the old normal?

    It is a curious question indeed. Briefly, retailers basically paid zero attention to all my research over the years. Not that they never listened. But I remember one of my long-time "friendly" retailers, in an internal presentation to their senior team, the challenge from one of the team, "But our target demographic is the STOCK-UP SHOPPER!" A tiny slice of their actual business. This confirms my accurate depiction of retailers as "merchant-warehousemen," making their profits from supervising "brand-on-brand" mayhem (competition) in the aisles. Unfortunately, brands hardly are able to focus on the shopper, given the roaring cacophony of competitive "communication" they are immersed in. None of this detracts from the absolute genius, and societal benefit of self-service retail. Amazon's Whole Foods is no significant advance, but Amazon GO represents the cutting edge of a vast change that will sweep bricks-and-mortar retailing. But it is still short of getting to "the mind of the shopper."
  • Posted on: 04/20/2020

    DTC brand sales soar in a time of social distancing

    You still have to MOVE the merchandise, and IMMEDIACY and the 360 experience of "bricks" will continue to trump online (DTC). However, online does allow immediate connection of the mind of the shopper to the mind of the seller. AND connection to the infinite "long-tail," all the merchandise in the world! So "awareness and growth" are exactly right in describing what is going on. However, maybe bricks retailers will learn to focus more on the shoppers, than just on their suppliers? (And the 40,000 items in 40,000 square feet of their floor space.)
  • Posted on: 04/14/2020

    Amazon puts new online grocery customers on hold, reconfigures Whole Foods

    This is simply an expansion of the "dark store" concept discussed on page 43 of "Inside the Mind of the Shopper!"
  • Posted on: 04/14/2020

    Amazon puts new online grocery customers on hold, reconfigures Whole Foods

    In other words, maybe retailers will actually pay more attention to their shoppers than to their suppliers, and their own management of 40,000 items in 40,000 square feet of store. They've done a GREAT job in managing SELF-service, aka the sell-to-yourself shoppers business. The shoppers themselves have done a GREAT job in selecting the FEW items they need regularly. Half of ALL shopping baskets contain only five or fewer items, ONE being the most dominant purchase. But why care about all that, when the retailers' real obsession is with the "stock-up shopper" -- a tiny minority of their regular customers?
  • Posted on: 03/30/2020

    Is Kroger’s pick-up only store a solution for grocers now and in the future?

    I highly recommend this discussion, for anyone seriously interested in the BOPIS (buy-online-PU-in-store) option.  This clearly has significant relevance, globally, during this Corona-virus challenge. I do think BOPIS will get a permanent boost from this challenge, but I do NOT think a retailer paying their staff to "do YOUR shopping FOR you" makes much sense.  SELF-service shopping (the standard today) is essentially a FREE service shoppers provide to retailers.  (SELF-checkout advances this to payment at the exit.) Robotic warehouse automation will likely eventually make BOPIS a major phenomenon at retail.  But it will never replace the immediacy and 360 experience of personal shopping.  Adding in/at-home delivery to BOPIS will continue to grow, but cannot impact the permanent bricks advantage of "immediacy/360!"
  • Posted on: 03/06/2020

    Instacart just leaves deliveries at the door as customers hole up against the coronavirus

    This well summarizes what could be a major trend for retail. It will force addressing the massive "parked capital" problem across the bricks retail world. Virtually billions of dollars of assets just sitting there resting quietly in bricks store's aisles (the alt-warehouse of bricks retailers, "parked capital.") Amazon has been working feverishly for decades to move all that "parked capital" offsite, and has quite possibly passed Walmart as the world's premier logistics organization in the world (managing "the stuff.") However, the super-successful "merchant warehousemen" of the past century need to create from scratch a focus on what the shoppers are focussed on, a small slice of what retailers are shoving into their faces -- on behalf of themselves and their suppliers. The small slice is known as the big head! The 10+% of all merchandise that shoppers mostly buy! Costco is in the lead for bricks retailing, except that they hardly accommodate the convenience of the neighborhood supermarket. Creating "Costco-like" "neighborhood pantries" will be the winning model of the small supermarkets of the future. The other 90% properly belong online, whether managed in the "Amazon mode," or supported additionally with "in-store online." This is the formula of the future, and maybe Coronavirus will be the trigger to launch it! ;-)
  • Posted on: 02/24/2020

    Should grocers just say ‘no’ to big CPG brands when it comes to shelf decisions?

    A silent revolution is underway. Many decades of standard retailer practice will NOT survive "as is."
  • Posted on: 01/21/2020

    Does convenience trump price for today’s consumer?

    I don't think things have changed that much since 1981: "Price it right!". The "fast thinking" of the subconscious mind still rules shopping, as explored in "Thinking, Fast and Slow" Daniel Kahneman. Think about this: "What we obtain too cheap, We esteem too lightly; ‘tis dearness only that gives everything its value." --Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, No. 1 (December 23, 1776)
  • Posted on: 01/06/2020

    Study: Digital commerce sites competing and collaborating with Amazon

    Several years ago I spelled out the details of "Selling Like Amazon... in Bricks & Mortar Stores!" - October 25, 2013. Since then I have identified the UNASSAILABLE advantages of both bricks and clicks: For bricks, it is 1. IMMEDIACY - you get what you want right now, right here - zero delay. 2. 360 EXPERIENCE - the physical presence of displays, other shoppers, staff, etc. For clicks, it is 1. ALGORITHMIC - selling focusing immediately, and exactly, on the single item you want. 2. "INFINITE" LONG TAIL - right at your "elbow." Costco achieves something along the "algorithmic" line by offering -- mostly -- only 3 choices for whatever you might want to buy. However, with only 3800 items in the store, compared to 40,000 items in the supermarket, they make no in-store effort to match Amazon. However, Amazon itself doesn't "Sell Like Amazon..." In THEIR bricks stores, with the exception of the Amazon-GO format, more of a "checkout-free" convenience store. If "GO" technology ever gets to the scalability capability of a supermarket, "Katy bar the door!" My own view is that any supermarket in the world could reasonably, easily operate their existing stores on an Amazonian basis by simply prominently displaying the 3 top selling items in each category. At least tripling the facings of JUST those three items, still surrounded by their 40,000 (or slightly less,) long tail. Offering this on mostly a single dominant path -- perhaps the perimeter -- would be SUPER! Instead of relying on supplier funding for this, building it on the SHOPPERS' votes (purchases) would revolutionize current merchant warehouse-manship that dominates existing supermarketing -- with a few spectacular exceptions, like Stew Leonard's, which still doesn't have the ATTRACTIVE 40,000 items, mostly long tail stuff. The huge variety does ATTRACT people to the store....
  • Posted on: 10/18/2019

    Have Giant Food and Stop & Shop nailed ‘frictionless’ checkouts?

    NO! Stop & Shop's evolved 2011 Scan & Go tech is NOT revolutionary, but a simple evolution of what never went anywhere with them, nearly 20 years ago! Smartphone scanning is a dead-end, endlessly dreamed by techies, but will likely NEVER play a major role in "FAST-Moving-Consumer-Goods" selling (European for CPG). Of course the brilliant but technically fraught Amazon Go technology will probably take some time to become relevant in full size supermarkets. But Amazon Go does NOT involve the shopper scanning items. Scanning is a practice that I surmise Clive Humby of Dunn-Humby would dismiss as "NOT CUSTOMARY" for the shopper. (He is reported to have made this comment on kiosks, but the principle is SOUND.)
  • Posted on: 10/17/2019

    Is e-grocery less convenient than shopping in stores?

    This is actually all quite backwards. Rather, it is bricks that has to learn to be more efficient, approaching clicks, on the VAST majority of their 40,000 items in their stores. Sure, bricks handles "small-selections, large displays, fresh" better than for the vast array of Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG,) where bricks retailers derive the largest share of profits -- from their brand suppliers! Obviously, fresh and immediacy are major advantages for bricks retailers, but both can be countered by speed from the online, clicks side. Can bricks retailers afford to "screw" their major source of profits, brand suppliers, by flooding their CPG/FMCG stores with the retailers' "own" label products? Having said all this, bricks will always have unassailable advantages of immediacy (speed) and the 360 experience. However, they are pathetically disadvantaged in the long tail of the "Everything Store." That is everything, except fresh (or immediately prepared) plus the entire social/360 environment. It's no wonder that single item purchases are the most common number of items purchased in supermarkets. Two being second, etc. As "neighborhood pantries," supermarkets will be driven into the convenience store corner, if they don't advance their efficiency more widely over the whole store! (Selectively!)
  • Posted on: 10/01/2019

    Do retail metrics need to be reinvented?

    The “missing” metric is simply SECONDS PER DOLLAR. This along with all the other metrics could be a GOLDMINE! (Items-transactions-brands-categories-full store.)
  • Posted on: 09/18/2019

    Retailers approach tech’s cutting edge with caution

    Tech WILL revolutionize bricks retailing, but the total process will be S - L - O - W! However, I say THAT with caution. It reminds me of the guy telling his buddy that he has gone bankrupt, and his buddy wants to know how that happened. He said, at first, little by little, and then, ALL OF A SUDDEN! I expect widespread adoption of tech to be something like that, with the CPG/FMCG market last impacted. However, adoption of technology for management of logistics will be first, since bricks retailers are largely oblivious to the shoppers, given their massive job of managing tens of thousands of items, scores of categories, and many hundreds of suppliers. This is why retailers largely leave shoppers to "do their own thing," coming into the retailer's "merchant warehouse," aka supermarket, and getting whatever they want. This has been a progressively super-successful business model for the past century, with shopper technology being only at the cutting edge in a few places - Amazon in the van! (Not at Whole Foods, yet.) However facial recognition will probably be first, since it is already so far advanced in a few places. Your iPhone RECOGNIZES you, and only occasionally asks you to verify by entering your own code. There is no reason that image recognition of both shoppers and products will not ultimately dominate self-service retailing throughout the bricks world. Walk-in, take what you want, and you will be immediately notified of your growing checkout total, if you want to follow it. Think it through and you will see how the dominant advantages of online and bricks will merge: For bricks: 1.) immediacy; 2.) 360 experience. For online: 1.) Algorithmic selling, beginning with the immediate offer of what you most likely want to buy RIGHT NOW! 2.) INFINITE long tail, that is, every possible option for what you are interested in. Don't let the future catch you totally unprepared. You might even profit from the cutting edge!
  • Posted on: 08/23/2019

    Why is Whole Foods CEO dissing plant-based meat alternatives?

    This is a fascinating discussion for me, a lifelong vegetarian, but not vegan. That is milk and eggs are a regular part of my diet -- and even, very rarely, meat. My perspective on this is driven by the assault on the egg business "40" years ago based on their high cholesterol content. The whole health/medical community beat the drum, damning eggs in the diet. It was incredibly stupid, since metabolically, dietary cholesterol has very little impact on serum cholesterol in your blood. Blood cholesterol is largely manufactured by YOU, from fatty foods you eat, whether meat or vegan. Dietary cholesterol is an insignificant factor, since it is largely indigestible anyway -- and a very minor part of any diet. See: “The Case of the Equivocal Steroid” – An Essay on Cholesterol" 1984. Now the significance of this is that the egg board was well aware of these facts, and CHOSE NOT to oppose the barrage of ignorant professional misadvice. A friend and colleague associated with the board reported the board's reaction to me. Will the meat industry exhibit the same wise behavior? As Josh Billings noted long ago: It is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so. (Josh Billings, 1874) As a Ph.D. biochemist, board certified in clinical chemistry, this is just one of the reasons my career evolved toward the science of shopper behavior, IN THE STORE!

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