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: 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!)
  • Posted on: 07/24/2019

    Amazon has won. Now what?

    I heartily agree with your thinking here, Doug. Your documentation of the "media view" of the store is right on. I believe that until bricks (and clicks) come to grips with this reality, they will be inadequate in optimizing bricks retailing.
  • Posted on: 07/24/2019

    Amazon has won. Now what?

    Better for the rest of bricks retail to learn how to actively sell to shoppers, rather than their own passive century long self-service model. Don't knock success, copy and beat it, if you can! ;-) (Amazon is still FAR from perfect at bricks, themselves.)
  • Posted on: 07/24/2019

    Amazon has won. Now what?

    Amazon's only real "competitive" weakness is its adoption of some legacy sales suppressing tactics in its bricks stores. But moving its outstanding "1-Click" sales strategy into bricks stores - Amazon Go - a new and improved, "NO-Click" sales strategy, will absolutely decimate their competition, as the bugs and scalability issues are worked out. The "blindness" engendered by a century of super-successful bricks retailing still keeps bricks retailers from recognizing the consequences of their TOTAL commitment to turning everything SELF-service into, "shoppers, sell yourselves." Amazon's algorithmic process of online selling has not yet reached the aisles of even their own bricks stores - other than "NO-Click," GO-sales. Hint: Smart phones aren't going to bridge the gap: "Selling Like Amazon... in Bricks & Mortar Stores! - October 25, 2013"
  • Posted on: 07/11/2019

    Crate and Barrel takes the feed them and they will come approach

    Sometimes it is overlooked that FOOD is the #1 necessity for survival, as far as commerce is concerned. And of course beverages are even more important, although "free" water is widely available to the public. OK, so air is even more important than water and food, but nobody has cornered the market on that yet. This is significant not only for the developments in this discussion, but THE VERY SAME factors drove Walmart to the pole position in global retailing, really beginning in the '80s and '90s, with the massive shift to supercenters - WAY beyond Kmart - with serious supermarkets integrated into Walmart's massive general merchandising program. Air-water-food drives all human life, and naturally dominates commerce. It's not a fact obviously recognized even by those who have inherited the century old supermarket business.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2019

    Is Walmart at an online crossroads?

    Everyone is at a crossroads! There are nearing 8 billion people on earth, and those 8 billion are increasingly connected to the rest of the 8 billion, and will become one-on-one connected, yet -- not just through nodes. The significance of this to retail is that retail is the ultimate nexus of the human race. Most of that human race is diligently working to provide products/services, etc. to some slice of the rest of the race, and receive payment -- cash at the checkout, wages or other compensation -- from the economic engine of the world, for their own contribution. This fuels their ability to access the contributions of the rest of the world, to them, for their own personal/family/business activities. Retail is the focal point of prosperity, and the future of the race. Bricks and clicks are simply two modes of the same thing: the FINAL connection of producers to consumers. That final connection of all is actually "Inside the Mind of the Shopper!" where the buy-switch matches the sell-offering on the display, or other mode of retail sales. In this context, Walmart and Amazon are both in nearly identical businesses, with some obvious adjustments in modality. But BOTH are struggling to steal customers from the other. Competition is the essence of human progress, and is most beneficial to society when BOTH win! Ahem! But a little deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses is in order -- not that the surface facts aren't readily apparent. In many ways, this from the RetailWire discussion captures the essence of the problem, Walmart vis-a-vis Amazon: "Amazon has 110 fulfillment centers in the U.S. versus fewer than 20 for Walmart. It also has access to many more brands and its Prime membership fees help offset costs." Not many years ago, Walmart was the premier logistics organization in the world -- surpassing even the US military. Today, Amazon has built a modern logistics capability, well advanced in automation and AI, from scratch, while Walmart has massive backward-looking capital in place for what is the principle function of the supply side of that "mind-of the shopper" trigger! Also, Amazon is using a screen display, and "step-by-step algorithmic process" to assist the shopper to do their "SELF-service", self-selling shopping. Efficient, and near instant access to "The Everything Store." PLUS, instant mental access to close the sale for all those ITEMS, one at a time, with "1-Click" checkout! Against this, Walmart continues their massive "parked capital" approach with "100,000" sq ft stores and "100,000" items, when the single most common basket at Walmart contains THREE items! None of this condemns Walmart to the path of Sears. Walmart is still far closer to the reality of "the neighborhood pantry." ALL supermarkets essentially serve that role. One thing for sure is that Amazon's forays into bricks retailing -- Whole Foods, in particular -- demonstrate that Amazon is inheriting the soul of the century old self-service bricks retailers. The very "soul" that Walmart nearly perfected, for "the world that then was." I summarize the playing field with the unassailable advantages of clicks and bricks, ALL of which will be manifest in the ultimate winner(s) of the bricks/clicks competition: For clicks:
    1. Algorithmic, mental step-by-step guidance of the shopper mind to "YES, I'll take it!"
    2. Near infinite potential offering - low capital cost provision of "everything" in the offering.
    For bricks:
    1. INSTANT delivery of those few items needed RIGHT NOW, into the hands of the shopper.
    2. The 360 EXPERIENCE of all the senses, of a total environment, store, other shoppers, sight, sound, aroma in the "acquisition" context.
    May ALL the best shopper servers thrive!

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