Brandon Rael

Director, Alvarez & Marsal

An accomplished, passionate, and inspiring leader who partners with global retail companies to solve complex business challenges.

Brandon is an experienced retail strategy and operations expert who operates as a senior liaison at the intersection of the business, operations, technology, digital, and marketing worlds. Having worked for and in partnership with fortune 100 retailers, Brandon has held diverse leadership roles spanning across the Consulting Delivery, Business Development, Pre-Sales, Strategy Advisory, Marketing, Branding, Digital, Omnichannel, and Merchandising organizations.

With an innate understanding of the retail market landscape and the evolving consumer mindset, Brandon is a key partner for companies, as they evolve, adapt and grow more effectively. Brandon has an exceptional track record of success in delivering significant business improvements, driving meaningful return on investments, inspiring organizational change, all with a holistic view of the changing business landscape. Most recently, Brandon has driven retail industry thought leadership, white papers, social media blogging, content marketing, led retail conference speaking engagements and has joined the prestigious RetailWire Braintrust community

His core areas of expertise include:

  • Trusted advisor, partner, and cultivating executive level partnerships
  • Digital innovations and transformations
  • Business development, revenue acceleration, organic business growth, P&L management
  • Retail merchandising, assortment planning, personalization & inventory optimization
  • Strategic planning and operational improvements
  • Operational and business transformations
  • Customer experience strategies
  • Global cross-functional delivery leadership
  • Unified commerce, omnichannel digital business & technology transformations
  • Consumer insights and predictive analytics
  • Complex Program and Project Management/PMO expertise
  • Organizational Change Management
  • Posted on: 01/22/2020

    Has BOPIS changed holiday selling?

    The BOPIS value proposition has not only changed how we shop during the holiday season but day-to-day commerce in general. There are clear competitive advantages and cost savings for retailers, that will drive top-line revenue while enabling companies to streamline their supply chain and leverage their stores as another e-commerce fulfillment channel. While Target, Walmart, Nordstrom, Best Buy and many other retailers are capitalizing on the BOPIS boom, retailers will still have to have a laser focus on the fundamentals, including assortment planning, pricing, promotional strategies, in-store and digital experiences.
  • Posted on: 01/21/2020

    Nike offers advice on successful marketplace partnerships

    Authenticity and the ability to connect with consumers and the marketplaces with storytelling are extremely important for brands such as Nike as they explore marketplace partnerships. Nike has taken steps to control their branding and imaging, especially with its recent move from Amazon's marketplace. As they move forward with their partnership with Zalando and other online marketplace platforms, it will be critical for Nike to collaborate with the messaging, storytelling, and curation.
  • Posted on: 01/21/2020

    Does convenience trump price for today’s consumer?

    The friction/reward principle is alive and well in today's retail world. Consumers are seeking a convenient and relatively frictionless way to shop, all while balancing quality and at the right price points. However, it's clear that consumers will forgo some of their standards around quality and pricing in order to get their products quickly and with minimal friction. Amazon may be the default option with their Prime shipping, yet we are now seeing Target, Home Depot, Best Buy, Nordstrom, Macy's, Kohl's and many other retailers step up to the plate and offer BOPIS, curbside pickup, locker options, ship-from-store fulfillment etc., in order to bridge the gap and offer consumers more choices. There will continue to be a balance between friction and reward as the lines between the digital and physical stores merge, and this is what retailers will have to carefully manage.
  • Posted on: 01/20/2020

    What does it take to create a risk-taking, innovating retail culture?

    There is a clear risk/reward proposition when driving a culture around innovation. Without taking the necessary business supported strategic risks, and by having a culture of risk adverseness, companies will stunt their growth and their ability to compete in today's marketplace. With that said, there is a balance to be struck between running your operations and taking strategic risks to drive innovation. Innovation is not possible without qualifying the business and experiential value to the company and its customers, as well as quantifying, measuring, and mitigating the associated risks in taking the plunge. This is exactly why any innovation initiative should be piloted, measured, and analyzed before scaling it across the company's enterprise.
  • Posted on: 01/17/2020

    NRF 2020 Review: Human vs. Machine

    Perhaps you are right Gene, however, in 2020, were are not at that level of maturity with robots. I will hedge my bets on the human element, especially in the specialty and luxury retail segments. Nobody is going to buy a diamond ring from a robot yet
  • Posted on: 01/17/2020

    Are Gap Inc. and Old Navy better off together?

    There are far more fundamental challenges ahead for Gap Inc., and separating out the Old Navy brand is not the right move at all. The customer and marketplace have evolved and changed, and Gap, along with their brands, has some catching up to do. Gap and Old Navy once had the "it factor" and were on the edge of what is cool and trendy. There are significant changes that have to be made to recapture that magic in a bottle. At this point, it may be too little too late.
  • Posted on: 01/17/2020

    NRF 2020 Review: Human vs. Machine

    The lines and boundaries are clearly forming between the need for person-to-person connectivity and the requirements around efficiency, speed, accuracy, and supply chain cost optimization. From my perspective, it was very apparent that there were clear distinctions at NRF 2020 around what experiences bring you joy and how automation and robotics could save you time and money. While the integration of AI, IoT, machine learning and automation into core retail functions such as merchandising and assortment planning were apparent, it's the blending of the art (human creativity/ingenuity/interaction), and the sciences that will help retailers keep up with the changing consumer market. It's clear that robotics has its place with fulfillment centers, inventory management, etc, however, the reason we shop at stores is for the experience of connecting with the community, and engaging with an expert. Nobody wants to chat with a robot in aisle 2.
  • Posted on: 01/15/2020

    Is Amazon more friend or foe for digital start-ups?

    While startups should tread carefully when entering into a partnership with Amazon, it's clear that they will benefit from the significant scale and reach of the platform. However, these digital startups will have to play by the rules when they are on the platform. Certainly, Amazon ultimately benefits from these and their larger partnerships as well. Just as larger brands have learned through their experiences, it's key to have more than one option outside of Amazon's platform. There are clear advantages to having multiple selling channels, including a DTC e-commerce platform and a variety of physical showrooms/popups.
  • Posted on: 01/15/2020

    NRF puts on another ‘big show’ for a hopeful industry

    The most significant takeaway from the NRF 2020 Big Show was a sense of cautious optimism as we proceed into 2020. There was also a sense of reality, as retailers and consumer brands tackle the needs of the empowered and digital-first customers. The prevailing theme with the technology providers was to take it back to the basics and focus on the fundamentals of meeting the challenges of the retail industry. Instead of leading with how artificial intelligence, cognitive, machine learning, Watson, and Einstein computing will change the world, there were practical use cases showcased by Salesforce, Intel, SAP, etc., which demonstrates how embedded these technologies are within the core retail merchandising, customer experience, and supply chain functions. As retailers and brands look to drive top-line growth, all while reducing and optimizing their cost structures, they are depending on their consulting and technology partners to help solve real-world challenges.
  • Posted on: 01/10/2020

    Should Ahold-Delhaize, Albertsons, Kroger or Walmart buy Grubhub?

    It simply may be too late for Grubhub, as their competitive edge has been eroded by the emergence of DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats. Grubhub's model was built on depending on the restaurant's delivery capabilities and earning a percentage of the revenue. Their main competition has mitigated this by depending on their own transportation fleet, which is far more scalable than Grubhub's model. The remaining value in Grubhub at this point is their capabilities, talent, and technology that may get absorbed into a larger company.
  • Posted on: 01/10/2020

    Will endless aisles and better supply chain management negate Amazon’s edge?

    Retailers and brands should fully concentrate on driving an outstanding customer experience and making certain that their supply chains, infrastructure and resources are all aligned to ensure that no customer leaves the store empty-handed. Competing with Amazon head-to-head is a losing game, as it's virtually impossible to challenge the Seattle giant's assortment, supply chain, and overall capabilities. However, it's high time that retailers fully capitalize on their brand equity and their physical shopping presence, via the powerful BOPIS offering. This will tip the scales and help drive significant value for their consumers while driving supply chain efficiencies, mitigating risks, and increasing profitability. We are living in a channel-less world and if retailers can offer the same day pickup option, then like at Target, Best Buy, Home Depot and Nordstrom, BOPIS could become a game-changer in 2020.
  • Posted on: 01/09/2020

    Will coffee drinkers miss single-use cups?

    Sustainability and environmental consciousness will rule the day in 2020 and beyond! This is an outstanding idea, and consumers are expecting retailers and service providers to step to the plate with renewable strategies. Well done Blue Bottle, and there is hope that many other coffee houses, and a certain coffee giant in Seattle, as well as a doughnut shop, follow suit sooner than later.
  • Posted on: 01/09/2020

    Kroger goes beyond meat and looks for impossible growth with private brand

    Considering all the momentum building in the meatless meat categories, it was inevitable for a grocer the size and scale of Kroger to step up to the plate with a private label offering. The one consideration is that both quality and price will matter in this emerging market. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have built up significant brand equity, however they are premium priced, and in some cases more expensive than actual meat. Kroger could ultimately make an impact in this space if they are able to come up with a viable product that offers both quality and an affordable option to the branded competitors. Very interested to see how this plays out. It's only a matter of time before the Whole Foods and Targets of the world come up with their own meatless meat private brand.
  • Posted on: 01/08/2020

    Pier 1 to close up to 450 stores as it faces uncertain future

    This is not a new development, and Pier 1 has faced significant challenges over the past few years. Particularly as they have seemingly lost their "why" and brand purpose while competing with both traditional home decor companies such as Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Restoration Hardware, and facing disruption in the form of digital-native companies such as Wayfair. Unfortunately, Pier 1 has not found the magic in the bottle to differentiate them against the deep competition they are facing. Perhaps with the smaller store fleet, a focus on the customer experience, a differentiated brand purpose, curated assortment, a focus on omnichannel, as well as connecting the physical and digital shopping experiences via BOPIS, the company may have an opportunity to turn things around. The immediate future isn't clear. Let's see how this plays out.
  • Posted on: 01/06/2020

    Study: Digital commerce sites competing and collaborating with Amazon

    Competing directly with Amazon is a zero-sum game, as retailers and brands would be hard-pressed to challenge the e-commerce giant's scale, reach, capabilities, assortments and brand affinity. With that said, retailers and brands have to by default have some sort of marketplace-like presence on Amazon's platform. However, going all-in on an Amazon strategy has its own minefield of risks and challenges. The key to the 2020s is a robust channel diversification strategy, where companies have a presence on Amazon but also have a DTC approach where they can control the branding, messaging, and overall customer experience. Very few brands are at the size and scale of Nike where they could completely drop off of Amazon. There is a co-dependency, and companies should tread carefully to not fully commit to one digital marketplace.

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