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: 04/24/2019

    Kohl’s goes all-in on Amazon returns

    Absolutely agreed! The rule is, "As long as people live in bricks-and-mortar houses, they WILL be shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores." Amazon is a genius at algorithmically closing the sale (1-Click and Amazon Go.) See: Selling Like Amazon... in Bricks & Mortar Stores!. The "game" has only just begun ...
  • Posted on: 04/11/2019

    Amazon Go doesn’t want to leave cash on the table

    I use cash without a cashier at Costco all the time. What's the big deal? It doesn't take a "cashier" to take cash -- the bank and ATMs work like this.
  • Posted on: 04/10/2019

    Will Walmart clean up with its robotic workforce?

    It's a very good start. How about robotizing displays? Not even Amazon has figured this out yet. However, Amazon GO is the personification of their patented "1-Click" checkout. (The patent has expired, but NOT the continuing super-sales practice of "close the sale immediately.") This is rule #1 to real, personal, super salesmen: "Close early, and close often." Close, close, close! That is the path to every sale, whether bricks or clicks. But a concept totally strange to the super-successful SELF-service retailers, (merchant warehousemen), who are passive in selling to shoppers, but very active in selling to suppliers. I give at least 10 years for any kind of recognition of this principle to break into bricks consciousness. It doesn't even seem to have occurred to Amazon, in their own forays into bricks retailing. The SALE always occurs "Inside the Mind of the Shopper." What happens at the checkout is simply confirmation of what happened at the shelf! I published the second edition of the book 10 years ago, and am even now working on the third edition. ;-)
  • Posted on: 04/09/2019

    Retailers and brands become best of frenemies with Amazon

    This is the wave of the future, PERIOD! Will anyone ever catch up with Amazon? Will anyone ever catch up with Walmart? Will Amazon and Walmart go head to head with bricks-clicks convergence? (Convergence doesn't mean pasting them on each other!) Will clicks ever move intelligently INSIDE bricks, or will techies continue to see pathetic hand-helds, or even kiosks, as their entry there? This whole show has been moving forward for at least 20 years, and it seems like minds are stuck in the mud. Think the future, not the present and immediate past. Looking FAR into the past can provide helpful perspective on the future.
  • Posted on: 04/03/2019

    Okay Google, how can you help grow Walmart’s online grocery business?

    Bear in mind that Stop & Shop had a major hand held "smart device" deployed in stores, since around 2001. It was also seen here and there across Europe. It's a L - O - N - G way from technology to the shoppers' everyday, functional minds. (Also, it is the habitual, subconscious mind that must be reached.)
  • Posted on: 04/03/2019

    Okay Google, how can you help grow Walmart’s online grocery business?

    Retailers of the future -- and their suppliers -- will be seamlessly connected with shoppers through Artificial Intelligence (AI), robots (mobile and otherwise), and throughout the supply chain. As has been said, "Telling the future is hard. Particularly the part about saying what will happen!" And I might add, "and when it will happen." Retail is the nexus between production and consumption, and bricks stores will certainly be a part of that. But AI and robots are the new frontier, that links bricks and clicks! ;-)
  • Posted on: 03/13/2019

    Will ending its price parity rule take the antitrust heat off Amazon?

    Walmart worked around this by having the "identical" item as competitors, at a slightly lower cost, although the item was not really identical. It's been a dozen years since I did a national pricing study for Sears, across a half dozen competitors across a variety of categories One of the things we found was that often "Item A" in all the competitors was identical, but in Walmart it was "Item A-2" or some such. Something of cost that Walmart had the manufacturer remove, that Walmart considered inconsequential to customers, justified them getting a lower price from the manufacturer than the competitors. Allowing some savings to be passed on to the customer in a slightly lower price. Several years later, in one of the books about Walmart, it was reported that a major lawnmower company withdrew all their merchandise from Walmart stores, choosing NOT to use Walmart as a retail outlet, for exactly this reason. Pressure, pressure, PRESSURE! It is baked into the retailer-supplier relationship, and quite properly so. So this is the context as to whether "government" should do something about this. Beyond already illegal sanctions for "lying to customers," ABSOLUTELY NOT. Intrusions by the government are a significant brake on lots of what should be legitimate "free" enterprise activities. But it is tricky, because it is the proper function of government to stop commercial cheating and lying. But just what that is, is often a function of the courts. So how effective has "government" been in stopping the massive admission "cheating and bribery" scandal, just breaking across elite higher education in America? Bear in mind, this very long corruption has survived because of the old observation that, "Error can make it's way twice around the world, while truth is getting on its boots!" Societally, there are "errors" that are centuries, if not millennia long, that society is yet struggling through. And others yet not in global prominence. For society, it has been a long ride - and it's nowhere near through. (For those historically aware.)
  • Posted on: 03/11/2019

    Will other cities follow Philly in banning cashless stores?

    I didn't review the constitution, but I do note, right on paper money, "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private." I do note that the state law makes exceptions for memberships, parking, etc. I'm sympathetic, but how is it legal for anyone to sell anything and demand non-cash payment? Checks, credit cards, or even your face make a lot of sense. But refuse cash? I think it is probably unconstitutional, even if a state authorizes it. Personally, I don't see a resolution of this very sticky wicket!
  • Posted on: 02/22/2019

    Why is shelf management getting short shrift in supermarkets?

    All absolutely RIGHT ON! (I'm about halfway through writing a much broader perspective about what will actually happen!)
  • Posted on: 02/14/2019

    America has too many retail stores

    The "too," is too much focus on the supply chain, and not enough on the shopper, and THEIR behavior. The reality is that shoppers basically use CPG/FMG stores as neighborhood pantries. The industry absolutely refuses to face the fact for supermarkets, ONE is the dominant NUMBER of items to be purchased. Even for a Walmart SuperCenter, the dominant NUMBER of items purchased is TWO! NEIGHBORHOOD PANTRIES! Spit in the face of reality all the way to collective bankruptcy. But there ARE bricks retailers who are built on this reality, and don't play in the "Everything Store" philosophy. However, ignoring the long tail is not the ideal approach either. I favor an "ideal" approach.
  • Posted on: 01/16/2019

    NRF: Roving robots report for work at all Giant Foods’ stores

    6'3" is too tall. Shoppers will not like being looked down upon.
  • Posted on: 01/14/2019

    NRF: Is video analytics the solution to ending long checkout lines?

    Kroger pretty well solved this problem years ago, keeping all lines at 3 or less. Now that others are getting around to it, Amazon has introduced no checkout lines in Amazon Go. This is the logical extension of their "1-Click" online checkout, to the bricks space. I'm sure it will show up by and by in Whole Foods -- and other of their bricks stores. Meanwhile, Kroger is partnering with Microsoft on an initiative that looks more likely to sweep the non-Amazon industry. Whew! ;-)
  • Posted on: 01/07/2019

    Will AI, tariffs or some other news be the big retailing story of 2019?

    AI is already far advanced into our lives. For example, did you know that 80+ percent of all trades on the NYSE are made by AI computer programs, not actual humans weighing what is going on? This is why "the market" often behaves idiotically. The AI of today probably bears little resemblance to what the AI of 10 years from now will be. However, one thing I am quite certain of is that it will not be driven by whatever techies dream up for your personal devices, smartphones and the like. Stores themselves will have moved involvement in the shopping trip by what THEY do, not what the shoppers do. It reminds me of a reported comment from Clive Humby about a techie innovation Tesco was considering, and his comment was something like: "It won't work, because it is not CUSTOMARY!" That's right, "customary," the way people behave will continue for reasons, beyond this short comment. But clues can be found in "Selling Like Amazon... in Bricks & Mortar Stores!" Understand your own behavior better, Mr. Retailer. Super success comes from that -- not "the crowd." And do note that my first published comments on online retailing were written in the '80s. It pays to think ahead, but understanding how retailing got to where it is -- and what its REAL controlling profit motivations are -- is a better guide to the future. Realize that Sears catalogs from a century ago were the cutting edge of in-home shopping, the precursor of today's online shopping world. And yes, AI will be a major silent force behind successful retailing in the future.
  • Posted on: 12/05/2018

    Drugstore/grocery pilot is two-thirds Walgreens and one-third Kroger

    Sounds like a great idea to me. First, because even in a 40,000 square foot supermarket, more shoppers buy only one item than any other number, with two items being the second most common, etc. So a "drug store" is far closer to the proper size for a "supermarket" than the capital intensive, wasted space and inventory that is the expected "supermarket." There is a lot more, but it is important to note that for major drug chains, more than 90 percent of their PROFITS come from the prescription business in the back of the store. How to get and hold that pharmacy business has always driven the need for traffic in the front of the store. This is the same principle that drove Walmart to be the #1 global retailer, (Here comes Amazon!) when Walmart added serious groceries beginning in the '80s. Walgreens/Kroger is now adding SERIOUS groceries! Profits from sales have long been subordinated in the supermarket world to "selling access to their shoppers," to their suppliers, et al., keeping margin on sales at a minimum. This strategy was honed by the Hartfords, with their A&P stores in the 1930s, and wonderfully leveraged by most of the supermarket business ever since! (Now Amazon is selling access to their shoppers for paying "advertisers." The "game" is FAR from over.) "Partnering" with Walgreens is a quick way for Kroger to get serious about the convenience store business that they, and all other supermarkets, "despise" in their giant neighborhood bloats. The industry forgets that the true supermarket is a "neighborhood pantry" that shoppers live from, stocking up their home pantries quite rarely.
  • Posted on: 11/13/2018

    Do grocery stores have a customer engagement problem?

    You mean grocery stores are supposed to engage with the customers? Not that no one might ever. But supermarkets are run by merchant warehousemen who build massive buildings, put many tens of thousands of items in them, and have a hard time keeping up with the management of that when shoppers keep removing stuff from the shelves. Does no one understand what self service means? Sell yourself, which revolutionized retail 100 years ago, was when the retailer mantra became, "Pile it high, and let it fly." Meanwhile, that crowd of gnarly suppliers is more than enough to keep management busy. Not that the retailer wants any of them to get too far ahead of their competition. Better to have several very successful suppliers than one dominant performer. The result is what I call "brand-on-brand mayhem" in the aisle. Of course, it is all polite, on the surface, with raging forces kept out of sight. I used to be shocked by the lack of understanding in the industry. Not any more. But the real winners are moving beyond the game of charades.

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