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: 04/23/2018

    Apocalypse? No. Retail faces a reset

    Someone is always thriving. Their particular business model may not appeal to you. But you needn't be recognized as a great tech innovator in order to survive. Look at the literally multi-decade puny success of hand-held devices at retail. But clinging to 100-year-old successful thinking is NO guarantee of survival, either. I respect those who introduce transformative technology -- IF it IS transformative to the shopping crowd. Alexander Pope left us some sage advice: "Be not the first, by whom the new is tried. Nor yet the last, by whom the old is laid aside." Focusing on the Big Head (what people mostly buy) without burying it in the Long Tail (what they might want to buy, sometime) has been a winning strategy from time immemorial. Probably will be, going forward, too! (See my article on "Crowd-Social-Nudge" Selling.)
  • Posted on: 04/18/2018

    Best Buy and Amazon expand their coopetition

    This will guarantee the survival of Best Buy, just as Whole Foods is now guaranteed survival -- not that either of these two chains were in imminent danger from the "grim reaper." But it also means another shot in the arm for Amazon.
  • Posted on: 04/17/2018

    Meijer works to keep up with Kroger and Walmart with ‘Shop & Scan’ tech

    This is one step short of Amazon Go, which doesn't require shoppers to scan anything -- the Amazon Go app does it for them. The real, unrecognized problem here, is that self-service retail, for the past 100 years, has basically been a warehouse business, with the retailer stocking their neighborhood "warehouses," aka "stores," with PALLETS of merchandise. The "stock pickers," aka "shoppers," then select from this massive in-store offering, and take it to checkout. The real problem for bricks retailers is that they refuse to recognize that they are pasting thin solutions on what is in reality a pallet vs. item distribution and management system. (Pallets for them; items for Amazon.) Pasting Jet onto Walmart was a multi-billion dollar example of this less than insightful response to Amazon. And the false dream of smart phones standing in for what shoppers by the billions already instinctively do in stores, is equally less than insightful. Shoppers do NOT habitually use inadequate personal devices -- smart phones -- to expedite their habitual practices in stores. Good grief! ;-)
  • Posted on: 04/12/2018

    Is product discovery now the biggest pain point for mobile buys?

    Good points. I have said before that bricks has 2 unassailable advantages -- the 360 experience in the store; and immediacy of getting what you are buying, not at some time even soon, but RIGHT NOW, in your hand. But then online has 2 unassailable advantages -- the infinite LONG TAIL; an algorithmic SELLING process. See: Selling Like Amazon... in Bricks & Mortar Stores! I say "unassailable advantages," but online's algorithmic selling is only unassailable because bricks don't even understand the problem they are up against. We'll see lots more bankruptcies, and costly thrashing about, BECAUSE the 100 year old mindset that has served so well for so long, calls for something more than costly tweaking.
  • Posted on: 04/12/2018

    Is product discovery now the biggest pain point for mobile buys?

    The reality is that smartphones will NEVER play a significant role (more than a few percentage points) in the FMCG/CPG space. Nowhere is Neale Martin's sage observation from "Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore" more appropriate. It has been reported that Clive Humby commented on the deployment of kiosks in supermarkets, "It won't work. It's not CUSTOMARY to the shoppers." That hasn't kept hundreds of millions from being wasted since the turn of the century in getting hand-held devices to be the Holy Grail. They are not, and are unlikely to be in our life-times, if ever. But there ARE niches! ;-)
  • Posted on: 04/02/2018

    What would an acquisition of Humana mean for Walmart and its rivals?

    For the past 100 years, major moves at retail have been about TRAFFIC, and building profits on that traffic other than selling customers things. There are three things that build traffic -- water, food and, now with the aging population, healthcare. To understand the serious nature of traffic as a root driver of retail, bear in mind that more than 90 percent of CVS' profits comes from the prescriptions in the back of the store -- and that drive-through. The front of the store must carry its own weight but, in reality, the front is a traffic builder for the back. There is nothing strange about this. In the same way, when Walmart was topping out with their large general merchandise stores in the '80s, they moved to supercenters with full groceries and that move, nearly alone, drove Walmart to become the half-trillion dollar behemoth they are today. But today it is not just food and beverage that is driving growth, it is healthcare for an aging population and, even more specifically, THE FUNDING OF THAT HEALTHCARE, aka health INSURANCE, where the real money in healthcare lies. CVS, with their in-store "clinics" and move into health insurance was THE early player in this swelling PROFIT game. The forced cartelization of the healthcare insurance market, virtually forbidding the sale of that insurance freely across state lines, will probably keep mega-capitalism in control of U.S. healthcare. These moves by major retailers into control of rich profits from the insurance business will result in the "nationalization" of national health care, without the stultifying dictatorial control of government. Abolish state lines that have forced the cartelization of insurance and competition will do its job. BTW, on that traffic business, even in Walmart, more shoppers leave the store with only a single-item purchase, with two being the second most common purchase size. Quick trips are the hugely valuable and unrecognized driver of food/beverage (and many other) purchases. What on earth could Kroger have been thinking when they backed out of the quick trip, c-store business?
  • Posted on: 03/30/2018

    Former Walmart U.S. CEO raises prospect of breaking up Amazon

    We went through this 100 years ago, as seen in "The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America" by Marc Levinson. Ironic that a former Walmart executive is making the competitive complaint. And it is significant that it is recognized that Amazon can afford to sell at or near ZERO MARGINS because of growing and massive funding from their Amazon Web Services (AWS). So Walmart plays nearly the exact same game, squeezing out their smaller competitors -- and attempting to compete with Amazon -- by relying on what are essentially ADVERTISING services. It's of course true that Walmart delivers the goods to shoppers, but their PROFITS come from "selling" shelf space (and location) to their suppliers, along with "advertising," whether in-store or with Walmart's broader advertising. There is nothing nefarious about using supplier payments for profits and driving for the lowest possible margins -- just adequate to cover operations, and maybe a few percent. What is weird is that most of the world thinks Walmart makes their profits selling things other than advertising. Google and Facebook are eating Walmart's "advertising" revenue. As is Amazon. So print, radio and TV played the same role 100 years ago, with A&P and the early supermarketers. Access to shoppers' eyeballs and minds are not controlled by walls anymore. RETHINK!
  • Posted on: 03/16/2018

    Survey says ‘retail is retail’ no matter where the sale is made

    "In fact, there will be a continuing Convergence of Online, Mobile and Bricks-and-mortar retailing (COMB retailing)." Apr 10, 2012 Glad to see the subject being addressed finally here. I look forward eagerly to a discussion of bricks retail being built on pallets, while online is built on items (logistics.) It's been a year or two since I first brought up this totally ignored, but controlling reality for bricks vs. clicks.
  • Posted on: 03/06/2018

    Will all retailers soon go cashier-less?

    This is an absolutely astounding grasp of the entire problem. I especially appreciated the comment on "visual sensors." Too often, tech people overlook that the door to the shoppers soul is through their eyes, and the best way to SEE what they are seeing, is through our own "eyes," one place removed via cameras. AI + cameras simply makes our own "seeing" potentially unlimited as to time and place. You might be interested in: "How To Observe, Measure And Think About Shoppers."
  • Posted on: 03/06/2018

    Will all retailers soon go cashier-less?

    "Will all retailers soon go cashier-less?" The answer is absolutely YES, with a single caveat on the word "soon." If "soon" can mean "in the next 20 years," the answer is certainly yes. But then, how long did it take for the iPhone (and successors) to stitch the ENTIRE world together?
  • Posted on: 02/20/2018

    Albertsons and Rite Aid combine to create food, health and wellness giant

    I have long hammered the fact that humans need only three things for survival: air, water and food. Air is widely available without cost, but water is often consumed in beverages; and then there is FOOD. And these obvious basic facts underpin the less obvious reality that grocery drives traffic at retail. Hence Walmart's moves into supercenters in the '80s ultimately led to them assuming the pole position in global retailing. That's just background to my own realization that there is a GROWING third commercial leg to SURVIVAL: healthcare. Its impact is not as immediate as water and food, but in the long run it plays much the same role in survival. And especially with an aging population, healthcare and dispensers of it become significant and continuing drivers of TRAFFIC! (By the way, even drug stores, though 90+ percent of their profits come from prescriptions, use the rest of the store to DRIVE TRAFFIC!) After all, successful retailing is all about TRAFFIC and in the future I must acknowledge that there are three major drivers of traffic -- beverage, food AND healthcare.
  • Posted on: 02/15/2018

    Grocers hit restaurants in the gut with hot bars

    It's basic humanity. People need air-water-food to survive and the FOOD (and beverage) drives traffic at retail. Beginning in the '80s, Walmart used grocery to drive its traffic (and business) to global dominance. Moreover, food leverages both of the unassailable advantages of brick-and-mortar retailing: immediacy (I can get it RIGHT NOW,) and experiential (I can see the actual item, smell and at least have it in my personal orbit -- a two to three foot radius.) Those two brick-and-mortar advantages are also behind the fact that any store in the world sells ONE item, more often than any other NUMBER of items, two items being second, etc. Retailers focused on big baskets and stock-up shopping are sitting ducks for Amazon, whose entire system is built on single-item sales (and logistics) but with an INFINITE offering -- "The Everything Store." Everything in their business is focused on that first, single-click purchase -- what everyone is mostly buying anyway. I must share with you an experience from my hammering this point (with little effect) around the world. At a presentation in Norway several years ago I pointed out these HARD facts of retailing. On another engagement a year or two later, a super-marketer told me that they had checked their 400+ stores, and found that what I said was true -- except for a half dozen stores where two was the most common number! So there you have it. I stretch things a bit, sometimes. ;-) And folks find me insulting at times. I try to keep that down, but it is better to be told the truth than to have reality smack you. The world of brick-and-mortar retailing is being properly "smacked" by reality. If you think the principles and practices of the past will carry you in the future, reality is patient, and can wait until others fill your shoes. And some of those are NOT so patient! Trust me. Reality has smacked me plenty, and I'm still trying to pay attention. ;-)
  • Posted on: 02/06/2018

    U.K. group has big plans for U.S. after buying Kroger’s c-stores

    I love these comments about core grocery business. The reality is that c-store IS the core grocery business! But only a few retailers are willing to recognize the HARD fact that more shoppers leave their stores with only a single item, with two being the second most common number of items purchased. In fact, HALF of all grocery shoppers buy five or fewer items! (Even at Walmart!) But then, why would an industry targeting "the stock-up shopper" care anything about that? Never mind that at its core, brick-and-mortar retailing is about communal, neighborhood pantries that largely deliver the big head items, but with a massive long tail. The long tail is VERY attractive to shoppers who just maybe might sometime need to buy something from it! Unfortunately, BURYING the big head in it is a surefire way to suppress sales. (Common merchandising strategy!) The subject is too long to address here, but companies with massive brick-and-mortar retail success in their individual stores ARE big head-only stores. Costco -- 4,000 items delivering up to $1 million of sales PER DAY in a single store; Stew Leonards, delivering $100 million per store with 1,800 items. Amazon is a special case, delivering ONLY single items as quickly as possible, but backing that up with millions of items "behind the click curtain" of the "everything store!" Sorry to see a great company like Kroger display this obtuseness. Will it matter? I'm betting it will.
  • Posted on: 01/22/2018

    Amazon Go goes live

    Amazon patented "one click" purchasing for online checkout. (Recently the patent expired.) Do you think the GO concept is not patented to the hilt?
  • Posted on: 01/22/2018

    Amazon Go goes live

    What the supermarket industry refuses to accept, with their tens of thousands of SKUs and tens of thousands of square feet, is that even a Walmart functions largely as a "convenience store," to the shopper. For Walmart AND supermarkets, ONE is the most common number of items at checkout, with TWO being second. Half the shoppers buy five or fewer items from a supermarket. The supermarket virtually functions as a communal pantry for the "neighborhood" with shoppers popping in to grab this or that immediate need. So it has been obvious for many years that the entire grocery industry is heading in the convenience store direction, kicking and screaming all along the way, beginning with the genesis of the c-store industry decades ago. And don't expect Amazon to stick to bricks here. A 2000 item store can easily deliver 2 million items in online mode. Imagine in-store screens adjacent to the merchandise, displaying options ready for delivery later that same day. Amazon is "The Everything Store," not just brick-and-mortar and not just an online -- the EVERYTHING store!

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