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®.

Other Links from Herb Sorensen:

  • 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!
  • Posted on: 08/22/2019

    Will shoppers thank heaven for mobile checkout at 7-Eleven?

    And THIS is the "Amazon Go"-like technology that can be more immediately implemented in every store in the world! Bear in mind that supermarkets are "neighborhood pantries" with ONE SINGLE ITEM being the most common purchase in nearly any supermarket in the world. THREE is the most common in Walmart supercenters (then TWO, with ONE being the third most common.) It is a logarithmic function, NOT an arithmetic average-type thing - SHOCKING, eh? The shocking thing is the obtuseness of bricks retailers to their shoppers ...
  • Posted on: 08/13/2019

    Grocers develop their own tech responses to Amazon Go

    After a career of 25 years of "asking" shoppers, I learned that "observing" them gave more direct access to reality. As an illustration of this concept: we used to ask shoppers (in the store) if they used a shopping list. Often they said yes, always. And if we asked if we might look at their list, they might fumble around and say, "Oh, I must have forgot it today!" The disjoint between what shoppers say, and even think, is vast. The gulf between words and reality! (How To Observe, Measure And Think About Shoppers.)
  • Posted on: 08/13/2019

    Grocers develop their own tech responses to Amazon Go

    It is the wave of the future, but not as suggested by the photo of a shopper pecking at their smartphone. That is imaginary crap from tech neverland. Although the personal device may remain a valuable connection as part of the overall store experience (in your pocket or purse!) it is as Clive Humby is reported as saying, "Not 'custom'-ary." As I have said repeatedly, "As long as shoppers live in bricks-and-mortar HOUSES, they WILL BE shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores!" But then I note that "predicting the future is HARD! Particularly the part about saying what will happen ... " ;-)
  • Posted on: 08/12/2019

    Is FedEx smart to say goodbye to Amazon’s U.S. business?

    I think it is odd that this is not seen in the same light as the rapacious attack of supermarkets on their brand suppliers, by introducing "their own, competitive brands," and giving them favored treatment (shelf space) over the major brands. None of this generic, ho-hum branding of the past, but serious effort to promote the retailers' own brands. This all makes perfect sense with "historical" brands weakening, perhaps through corporate loss of brand understanding, but certainly through serious erosion with the modern millennials market, seeking new, current generation branding. Amazon and bricks are bringing a lot of fundamentals into blurry focus. Blurry, not because the reality is blurring, but because of blunted, general awareness of all of us (society,) that functionally operates on the principle that the way things are today, is the way they were yesterday -- and will be tomorrow. It is a fundamental stabilizing force in society -- very helpful. But not necessarily useful when looking to the future.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2019

    Has Amazon ‘destroyed the retail industry’ in the U.S.?

    Absolutely disagree! Bricks retailers are largely frozen in a 100 year old mind set, unprepared for the massive shifts in society, yet pending. These are being driven by the interconnectedness of the entire human race, 8 billion people, with retail being their common nexus, worldwide. The internet, of course, is racing into the lives, particularly of the younger generation. None of this means the death of bricks retailing, but they need to be far more "heads up" than Sears was, or they will self-selectively go that way. Regardless of their size. Amazon has just built an important component of the wave of the future. It is not all about the internet -- any retailer can go there. And bricks retail has two iron-clad advantages: immediacy of the transaction and the 360 experience of the transaction. What bricks retailers do NOT have is any kind of realistic focus on the small baskets that absolutely drive the traffic in their stores. As one retail executive in an internal conference explained to me, "But our target demographic is the stock-up shopper!" That's fine that those stock-up shoppers are contributing so nicely to store profits. But even shoppers themselves are oblivious to how often they buy only one or a few items -- even in Walmart. Those many small baskets drive the occasional large basket for that shopper. Anyone ever hear of "1-Click" purchasing? Amazon is aiming for "ZERO-Click" purchasing (Amazon GO). This is the slaughtering tool against bricks retailers. However, we do see some embryonic moves here and there in the bricks world. Are they going to give Amazon a sitting target? Or are they going to get going to get their commercial brains together to recognize that the government is not going to save them? (Don't look for guidance to the crowd of your fellows!)

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