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: 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.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2018

    What if artificial intelligence is biased?

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not really "intelligence" at all, but rather simply information, hidden in vast skeins of data, about what IS, that is not readily NOTICED by our limited minds. However, it is doubtful that that data accounts for all the biases produced by programmers from demonstrated human monocultures, politically, socially, etc. Some of the biases may be historically justifiable, but maybe not, too. It's a mess. But THAT's the human race, that is on a largely unrecognized positive trajectory. See: Steven Pinker, "Is the World Getting Better or Worse?"
  • Posted on: 10/08/2018

    Giant Food expects big things from a new, mini-grocery store concept

    This new Giant store IS "the store of the future." "Giant" retailers like Walmart, and everybody else, absolutely refuse to recognize that their cavernous stores are actually neighborhood pantries. The hard facts are that more shoppers walk out of a Walmart Supercenter with just TWO items than any other basket size. Three and ONE are the next most common basket sizes at Walmart. (For supermarkets, ONE ITEM baskets are the most common!) However, as to their "endless aisle" technology, staff with tablets hardly seems serious. But at least it is an overt response to providing access to the other tens of thousands of items that make little sense in the "neighborhood pantry." I'm betting on my patent pending "Long Tail Accelerator!" (20160247219 - INTERACTIVE TRANSACTION SYSTEM FOR PHYSICAL MERCHANT STORES. ;-) )
  • Posted on: 10/02/2018

    Why do retailers practically ignore existing customers to go after new ones?

    "Legacy systems are focused on sales transactions, not customers...." This single, simple statement, summarizes a VAST unrecognized truth. If only bricks retailers would understand that the assault of Amazon on their core business, is driven by Amazon's focus on customers, not products. Amazon doesn't give a fig about the products, of the millions they have on offer. All they want is THE sale, ANY sale, RIGHT NOW! Did you notice their "1-Click" ordering? For Amazon, everything is now, Now, NOW! To confuse the issue by the incredibly superficial thinking of online vs. bricks is just that, incredibly superficial. And is leading to billions in investment that is totally missing the Amazon target, as they continue munch, Munch, MUNCHING on everyone else's lunch, in their frenetic/leisurely fashion. Wake up, Wake Up, WAKE UP!!! ;-)
  • Posted on: 09/27/2018

    Will Amazon disrupt retail again with its new 4-star store concept?

    This is a perfect formula for ANY brick-and-mortar store. Do you think that 100 years of bricks success will forestall anything but cosmetic responses, like "click and collect?" Note: "How Failure Spawns Success; (in retail, as well as elsewhere)." But most businesses fail so that OTHER businesses can succeed. Sad.
  • Posted on: 09/24/2018

    Are big box retailers going too small with new store concepts?

    Two hard scientific facts drive the advisability of smaller stores:
    1. In nearly ALL stores, shoppers make a ONE-item purchase more often than any other number. (For Walmart, it is TWO items as the most frequent basket size.)
    2. For a supermarket with 40,000 items on display, 400 of those items deliver one-third of total store sales (1,000 items deliver 40 percent of sales -- with contribution per additional inventory items plummeting).
    But for suppliers, every additional item helps buttress their own battle for shelf space -- and possible shopper attention. And suppliers pay for that competitive space one way or another. The one- or two-item purchases just confirm that stores have become neighborhood "pantries!" No need to have a fully stocked pantry at home when you pass several stores every day, where you can pop in to get your IMMEDIATE needs. Add in online and you have potentially infinite selection! THIS is where retail is, and is going in an even more extreme form. Get your popcorn and watch! ;-)
  • Posted on: 09/14/2018

    Are ad agencies history?

    Are ad agencies history? If "ad agencies" means "what they have been up until now," then the answer to the question is YES. But the same question can be asked about a lot of businesses, and for many, the only helpful prescription is "change or die!" One relatively comprehensive (and very detailed) view of what is driving the BIG change can be found in "Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy" by George Gilder. But there are a torrent of articles of the type being discussed here that are swelling into the commercial space.
  • Posted on: 09/04/2018

    Walmart’s two-day shipping pledge comes with a caveat

    Calling it "Out of Stock" is simply lying to the customer. I see Walmart inherited this dishonesty from
  • Posted on: 08/21/2018

    How much do e-tail algorithms need humans?

    The two "unassailable" advantages of online selling are the "infinite" long tail -- the "everything store" -- and algorithmic selling. (The advantages of brick-and-mortar are immediacy and the 360 experience.) Not surprisingly, as Amazon moved into brick-and-mortar, they began by trying to apply their algorithmic genius into their brick-and-mortar stores. As others have noted here, their beginning algorithmic approach was less than totally satisfactory. But Amazon is inherently a LEARNING organization -- as contrasted with the 100-year-old brick-and-mortar logistics selling model. The industry has yet to come to grips with the loss of "active selling" skills 100 years ago. The new passive selling, aka SELF service was such a massive success, delivering billions in profits for retailers, and MASSIVE attendant benefits for shoppers, the original self-service mantra became deeply embedded into the industry’s psyche — "Pile it high; and let it fly!" So much that the personal selling skills associated with salesmen were ignored, with the non-personal selling of a brick-and-mortar store, what I call PASSIVE selling, becoming mistakenly thought of as "selling." With the advent of Amazon, the industry was faced with a genuine approximation of ACTIVE selling, embedded in Amazon's algorithmic selling. (Remember, true selling is always about something that happens in the mind of the shopper. See: Selling Like Amazon... in Bricks & Mortar Stores! - October 25, 2013. THIS is the true challenge of clicks for bricks! Thinking that pasting online operations onto a massive brick-and-mortar passive selling operation is an adequate response to Amazon is incredibly superficial. Adopting long vanished (gone 100 years) personal selling techniques within the brick-and-mortar store apparently is not going to gain major traction until Amazon works out their bugs and continues their voracious growth -- they've hardly yet begun! ;-)
  • 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.)

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