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: 08/02/2017

    Are there too many grocery stores?

    The entire perspective BEGINS with Ed Rosenbaum's final note (below): "We do have to eat." The detail, I have spelled out at, and with my second edition of, "Inside the Mind of the Shopper," particularly the first six chapters.Very briefly, retailers are merchant warehousemen, who are focused on a pallet-based supply chain. They get the merchandise onto the shelves of their neighborhood warehouses (aka, stores,) and rely on unpaid stock pickers (aka, shoppers,) to "come and get it!" They neither know nor care how the shoppers do this, they only tally the items and dollars at checkout, and the square feet of the store. The rest is "crowd" demographics, etc.Meanwhile, retailers have ZERO interest in maximizing the sales of ANY supplier. They want multiple suppliers competing for their warehouse space, which creates the "brand-on-brand" mayhem that goes on in the aisle, and from which the retailer draws their #1 source of profits, which is in reality, a cut from the suppliers' profits -- slotting fees, trading allowances, etc.The radical difference between this and Amazon is NOT that one is bricks, and the other is online. It is one that is intensely focussed on individual items, one at a time, and individual shoppers, one at a time. Paying $300 billion dollars to overlay an online, formerly unremarkable acquisition, onto their shopper dysfunctional stores is doing close to ZERO to solve the nut kernel problem. Writ large or small, the reality is the same.
  • Posted on: 08/02/2017

    Are there too many grocery stores?

    NO! There are not "too many grocery stores." But the stores that there are, are designed to accommodate suppliers and retailers -- NOT shoppers. It is NOT online that is assaulting brick-and-mortar retailers, it is someone aggressively dedicated to the shoppers.The story has way too many facets to treat here, but mostly the recognition of the "Houston, we have a problem!" variety is all we hear. WHAT the problem is, is largely unrecognized. If it was "too many stores," why are the new players, INCLUDING AMAZON, building NEW brick-and-mortar stores? What is needed is brain transplants all around. And this is only a nudge: The Problem: "Parked" Capital -- September 30, 2014.
  • Posted on: 07/20/2017

    Is the one-stop grocery shop coming to an end?

    It has always been true, in all societies, and from antiquity, that grocery stores have functioned as "communal pantries." For a variety of reasons, the process of moving groceries from the communal pantry to your own private pantry at home or office has varied as store access, personal finance and lifestyles have evolved.One HUGE factor is the move toward food service (restaurants, etc.) I don't know the exact figure currently, but I'm pretty sure that, in the U.S. market at least, more than half of the food dollar goes into food service rather than for movement to a pantry for later use/consumption. This also points out why the best stores provide both groceries AND food service. Notice the large, and sometimes crowded, in-store "dining" area at Costco.Never forget that FOOD drives retail, because FOOD drives the human race. Air, water and food are the ONLY things that humans MUST consume on a continuing basis. Air every few seconds, water (beverages) at least every few hours and food every day. To be extreme, you will die in a minute or two without air, a few days without water and a few weeks without food.Retail is the final mile in how those who produce food and beverages support those of us who don't. Grocery marketing drives TRAFFIC and led Walmart to become the largest retailer in the world. And when there is a new world leader, FOOD will be their major tool for getting there. Food is the big head of retail. It is also the driving engine pulling the long tail along.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2017

    Is online fulfillment from stores too complex for e-grocery?

    The fulfillment problem is just the ignored tip of the iceberg. The entire brick-and-mortar system is built on PALLET logistics, delivering pallets of merchandise assembled in warehouses to stores where paid stockers put the stuff on shelves. Amazon's entire logistics is built on ITEM delivery to individual shoppers, not to stores.The brick-and-mortar retailer's entire model is heavily dependent on UNPAID STOCKPICKERS, aka shoppers, to do that final "picking" and taking it to checkout for purchase. This is why I refer to brick-and-mortar retailers as merchant warehousemen. They do not SELL anything to anyone. They simply keep the WAREHOUSE, aka store, stocked, and other than stocking and COUNTING the money and sales, they are fairly ignorant of the actual mental/physical PROCESS by which shoppers sell to themselves.It's too complicated! ;-)
  • Posted on: 06/22/2017

    Does Costco need to significantly undercut Amazon’s prices?

    In terms of actually closing sales to shoppers, Costco uses methodology that is amazingly similar to that of Amazon. In fact, Costco was exhibit A in my 2013 report on "Selling Like Amazon... in Bricks & Mortar Stores!" But there is another vital similarity: Costco's MEMBERSHIP and Amazon's PRIME. Both of these provide a bedrock of pure profit, allowing both companies to pursue the 100-year-old retailer strategy of as close to ZERO margins as possible. See: "The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America" by Marc Levinson.A year ago, Costco was the number two global retailer but now has been passed by Amazon. The future belongs to Amazon because their business model is more easily scaled than is ANY brick-and-mortar retailer. But at least Costco's more plodding growth is built on a solid SHOPPER based business plan, as contrasted with other brick-and-mortar retailers' SUPPLIER-based business plans. As The Wall Street Journal recently quoted in READER RESPONSE:"Herb Sorensen of Oregon shared: 'Brick-and-mortar store logistics are designed to deliver pallets to their own ‘neighborhood warehouses,’ a.k.a. stores. Amazon’s logistics are built from the ground up, to deliver items to individual shoppers. Fresh food is, of course, a challenge for Amazon. But Amazon can, and likely will, solve this problem, and become the world’s dominant retailer, just as Wal-Mart did when they moved seriously into fresh food in the 80s and 90s.'"
  • Posted on: 06/16/2017

    What happens now that Amazon is acquiring Whole Foods?

    Two things: Amazon Go, and "As long as people live in brick-and-mortar houses, they WILL be shopping in brick-and-mortar stores."I have written extensively on this subject since at least 2005, when I did a presentation on "The Amazonification of Walmart." Unfortunately, Walmart never caught on. And then with "Selling Like Amazon... in Bricks & Mortar Stores!" I pointed out the incredible operational (relative to shoppers) similarity between Costco and Amazon.Last year, a senior manager at Costco announced that they were not going to make a major focus of their online operations, and then in the past few months the message was reversed and they ARE going to make a major focus on integrating their online AND brick-and-mortar operations.It is still early times in the total revamp of brick-and-mortar retailing and the INTEGRATION of bricks with clicks. It looks like the cutting edge of that integration is now pretty well in the hands of Amazon. At least they are working on the REAL problems: "rat maze" stores with massive "parked capital."Our merchant warehousemen (brick-and-mortar retailers) relying on unpaid stock pickers (shoppers) have spent a century relying on their suppliers to generously fund those massive stores, with massive near-static inventory -- relying on a tiny slice of that (The BIG head) poorly focused-on, as the outlet for a logistics system built on pallet movement through the supply chain. Amazon's system is built on ITEM movement -- and the winner is?The game is long afoot, but far from over.
  • Posted on: 05/24/2017

    Will Amazon’s use of data transform how retailers operate stores?

    Notice that Amazon's prime focus is on what we call top sellers. That is, across the shopping crowd, the book that is overwhelmingly favored BY THE SHOPPERS! What a concept! Other brick-and-mortar retailers think they are really clever by NOT calling out what shoppers mostly want to buy, thinking that "forcing" them to search may lead them to buy something else, too!For brick-and-mortar retailers this is an insane anti-sales strategy that has lead to industry-wide suppression of sales. Look at their business model and it all makes sense. Their number one source of profits comes from their SUPPLIERS, NOT their customers. (And guess who is expecting their suppliers to come give them relief from the relentless assault by Amazon?)And so brick-and-mortar retailers are sitting ducks just waiting for Amazon to continue gorging on THEIR businesses. The difference is that Amazon actually focuses on the shopper, not the supplier. There are a few brick-and-mortar exceptions, Costco being the preeminent example. Hmmm! So Costco is now the number two global retailer according to Kantar's latest rankings. Did you notice all the sudden attention to what Costco is doing? Me neither. It's "crickets" from an industry absorbed by their own losing thoughts.
  • Posted on: 05/11/2017

    Is marketing research suffering from an identity crisis?

    It's really quite simple: RESEARCH is the way you gain INSIGHTS. However, it can be a two-way street. The best way to do research begins with possibly even "anecdotal" observations that prompt tentative insights. This is the beginning of empiricism, the door to science. Then comes the sometimes-hard work of naming what is being observed, and counting observations across time and environments. That meets Lord Kelvin's requirement: "If your knowledge cannot be expressed in numbers, it is of a meager and unsatisfactory sort."As numbers accrue, the mathematical relations appear, and now can be represented in formulas. Combining multiple formulas delivers a mathematical model. NOW you have INSIGHT!
  • Posted on: 04/17/2017

    Are outlet malls an outlier?

    I notice the tendency to refer to bricks "retailing" as if it is one thing. I do that myself, sometimes. But the reality is that the two branches are quite distinct, though related. The dominant branch is the "self-service, Fast Moving Consumer Goods, FMCG" branch. It is dominant because it's pinnacle is food -- hence, GROCERIES! The other branch is everything else, often sold in a "service" mode, with a salesperson mediating a large share of the sales.These are radically different businesses, even if closely related. For example, it was the supermarkets 100 years ago that drove the retail revolution, with sky-rocketing efficiency, plunging prices, and massive gross sales. Walmart began, not as a grocer, but as a "supermarket" for non-groceries. But it wasn't until a few decades later that they plunged seriously into groceries. And therein lies the tale of becoming the world's largest retailer, by a factor of about 4, presently. The reason is simple: FOOD SALES DRIVE TRAFFIC! And that is largely SELF-service traffic.The reason for providing this detail is because outlet malls typically locate in somewhat rural areas with large passing traffic, and do not have the MASSIVE "Parked Capital" that both supermarkets and malls do have. As I noted earlier, three years ago, THE PROBLEM for bricks retail is "parked capital." Parked capital is capital that is sitting idly in massive rat-maze stores, where the stores themselves are half the component of parked capital, the other half being displayed inventory that is not moving. The "parking" is a consequence of the very minor contribution to total store sales from that capital.This problem of parked capital is moving like a slaughtering army through dithering retailers. Some seem to think layering on an online selling capability will hold the slaughtering forces at bay. Tsk, TSK! And Amazon is beginning to build bricks stores and operations. :-(
  • Posted on: 04/10/2017

    Should the same-store sales metric be retired?

    Absolutely do NOT abandon "same-store" metrics, although it must realistically be restated as "same trade area," including BOTH online and in-store sales. Managing online and in-store separately will lead to further "murder" of the in-store business. Of course if top management really does see the two manifestations of their business as two different businesses, they have already sounded the death knell for their in-store business, which can't possibly survive without drastically reducing the vast wastage of their "parked capital." See: "The Problem: "Parked" Capital."It's not just about giving full credit to the bricks store for online purchases made by their usual shoppers, but unless the store is credited with both modes of purchase, then they must be competitors -- online vs. bricks. This is insane from a management point of view. It is helpful that this is being discussed in this forum, but sad that the industry has not long since resolved these issues. (And I don't care how difficult the metrics are. If your IT people are stuck in the past century, get some new ones!)The bricks store MUST be promoting online sales, EVEN FROM WITHIN THE BRICKS STORE!!! Just as the online store MUST be promoting bricks sales. The two modes are complementary. Why do you think Amazon is building bricks stores (and notice how they are doing it.)It has been several years that I have been touting the Convergence of Online, Mobile and Bricks retailing (COMB.) Possibly people don't understand what the word "convergence" means? ;-)
  • Posted on: 04/05/2017

    BrainTrust throwdown: Is it inevitable that tech companies will dominate retail?

    And here's another current link:"Amazon is worth almost twice as much as Walmart."
  • Posted on: 04/05/2017

    BrainTrust throwdown: Is it inevitable that tech companies will dominate retail?

    I have quite a series of reports on this issue, just from the past couple of weeks. But will begin my comments with my long-term observation that "As long as people live in brick-and-mortar houses, they WILL be shopping in brick-and-mortar stores." Here are the most relevant links I have to this discussion:"Amazon Wants Cheerios, Oreos and Other Brands to Bypass Wal-Mart.""Amazon and Walmart are in an all-out price war that is terrifying America’s biggest brands.""Walmart's e-commerce binge is one big Silicon Valley bailout."I heartily endorse the view in this third link, which I believe supports Ryan's side of the discussion. The fundamental problem is that brick-and-mortar retailers are clueless as to what the PROBLEM is, as are their techie adjuncts. It's not unnatural that merchant warehousemen relying on unpaid stock-pickers (shoppers) to sell themselves would be oblivious to true salesmanship. THAT is the secret sauce of Bezos, not all the brilliant execution. It is the selling PROCESS that really distinguishes Amazon! (See: Selling Like Amazon... in Bricks & Mortar Stores!)In sad defense of the struggling/dying brick-and-mortar retailers, their magnificent service over the past century is recognized. But sorry -- THIS is the 21st century. Let he who hath ears to hear, HEAR!
  • Posted on: 03/17/2017

    Are Amazon’s boxes prime ad real estate?

    The reality is that, with the massive impact of internet/social media, the number of places one can attempt to use to communicate are exploding. But things that don't disappear in seconds -- like shipping boxes -- are a perfectly logical place to use for advertising.The problem here is what I call the "visual cacophony," most prominently seen in stores with 40,000 different packages all shouting from the shelves, "Buy me!" Every package is a visual "voice" calling for attention. Using a shipping box for the same type of purpose makes some sense.But the problem is, what is the cost both in dollars to the advertiser and further advertising "noise" in the world of the shopper? It's hard to tell, but this one (shipping boxes) seems like a fairly innocuous effort at least.I am reminded of John Wanamaker's complaint that "Half of my advertising dollars are wasted; but I don't know which half!" Here is the reality: There are literally trillions of dollars sloshing around the economic system -- "free cash" in a sense. These are profits that companies have accrued and now their owners/boards are looking for places to spend some of that money to make those businesses even bigger and more healthy.The two main paths (other than becoming more efficient operationally) to a bigger business are through building a better mousetrap (research and development) or trying to reach potential buyers better (marketing and sales). Both of these are SERIOUSLY fraught enterprises, both subject to Wanamaker's complaint. The success of both are easily measured in top-line sales, but both get complicated when multiple projects of both types are being pushed into the market: multiple product enhancements and multiple marketing/advertising initiatives.Given the reality of this situation, it is no wonder that even multi-billion dollar companies die out over time, especially as the market itself changes. Failing to invest in R&D and M&S WILL LEAD TO DEATH OF THE BUSINESS. But both thrive on genius, not necessarily sharp-pencil accounting. As Arie De Geus explains in "The Living Company" in Harvard Business Review, even giant companies typically have life spans shorter than most humans. Wake up, wake UP, WAKE UP!
  • Posted on: 02/21/2017

    Third-party e-commerce fulfillers: Friend or foe to the grocers?

    I'm not sure that even bricks retailers that do their own online service are going to have any significant success. It's a little like all the hootin' and hollerin' about smartphones in-store a few years back. I was a cheerleader myself! And this amounted to nothing much, except in a few specialized situations. Now we have BOPIS or click-and-collect. I hate to say it, but it looks like Walmart is squandering billions on what will be seen as possibly the final error in them passing their peak growth, and beginning the long descent A&P already took, and Sears is far gone on.It's a logistics issue, pure and simple. Bricks retailers receive their merchandise in the store on pallets -- that may be delivered from suppliers with SUPER EFFICIENCY. THEN, they PAY stock clerks to move those pallets to the displays across their giant neighborhood WAREHOUSE, also known as a store. UNPAID stock pickers, also known as SHOPPERS, do all the stock-picking and movement to wherever they want/need the stuff -- home, office or elsewhere. With a single impediment on the way -- checkout.You layer an online operation on top of that and it is near disaster. Beginning with, "how are you going to now pay your own stock pickers to replace the unpaid shoppers?" And that is simply the tip of the iceberg, in competing with Amazon, who has built a supplier to shopper delivery system built on SINGLE items rather than the bricks store's BASKET. Amazon has spent decades building a largely automated logistic system from supplier to shopper, based on single item deliveries to shoppers.Bricks retailers have spent a century building the fore-runner premier logistics system based on pallet deliveries to the store. Unless bricks and clicks CONVERGE, ruin and disaster awaits the bricks store. BECAUSE, I believe Amazon is building a converged bricks-and-clicks store in Seattle right now -- Amazon Go. I'm relying on Amazon's reports, and will visit the store when it is open to the public.I'm expecting that Amazon Go will represent convergence, not simply pasting a less than stellar Amazon competitor onto antiquated bricks thinking. If you are a bricks retailer, you need to think very hard about how to build the NEW retail operation, using ALL the best methodology, both online and bricks, into a NEW operation. Then see how what you have can be evolved into THAT. But don't let the albatross of century old retail thinking, mixed with new whiz bang online thinking, that doesn't understand the bricks store, drive your plans.I've given it my own best shot in the first chapter of the second edition of "Inside the Mind of the Shopper: The Science of Retailing."
  • Posted on: 02/03/2017

    Why do so few shoppers think of BOPIS as a ‘smooth’ process?

    Just maybe it IS disastrous, often enough, to be turning people off. I don't have an answer, but I certainly see the problem clearly: Bricks retailers are "merchant warehousemen," skilled in managing inventory through stores by delivering pallets there. Their stock clerks move that merchandise to displays in mass amounts. And their unpaid "stock-pickers", aka shoppers, pick individual items for transport to checkout -- and home.It's mass (pallet) movement, vs. item, individual purchase movement. And BOPIS expects the retailer to do the stock-picking FOR the shopper. (Who's paying for THAT?)Wonder why the world's premier logistics organization -- Walmart -- struggles to make this work? You think paying stock-pickers is just free, and easy-peasy for an industry built on unpaid stock-pickers? This marginal disaster is destined to continue for a long time, until some realistic solutions are found. Hint: It will probably NOT involve 50,000 sq. ft. stores. (Here comes Amazon Go!)

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