Brandon Rael

Strategy & Operations Leader | Retail Strategist | Trusted Advisor |

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: 08/20/2019

    Counterfeit books vex Amazon

    Just as Amazon has raised the expectations for being a part of their retail marketplace, considering all the issues with counterfeit books, perhaps it's high time to put measures into place to help mitigate these issues. The responsibility should be shared between the book sellers and Amazon to ensure a good customer experience. Quality control measures need to be put into place to ensure accuracy, quality and that the content is within Amazon's standards, well before the books are sold on their platform. So the bulk of the accountability should fall on the book sellers, and Amazon should have mechanisms in place to ensure that they are compliant.
  • Posted on: 08/20/2019

    Is technology really making stores more like the web?

    The physical store should fundamentally look and feel nothing like the web. Yes, it's true that customers are shopping in a channel-less manner. However, customers continue to flock to the brick and mortar stores to escape the digital matrix, and have a unique experience they couldn't otherwise in a connected platform. The convenience and efficiency play of the Amazon Go model works. Yet in most other retail formats, the customer is looking to engage, connect, have an experience, and a connection with the brands that extends well beyond the actual transaction. These types of in-person, interactive experiences are not transferable from digital platforms. While it's true that we are seeing an increasing amount of technology integrated into the in-store experience, the five senses have such a significant influence on how and where we shop.
  • Posted on: 08/19/2019

    Will a new grocery private label spur more Target runs?

    The Good & Gather line, which offers affordable, organic, wholesome grocery products within the Target umbrella, will offer the brand another potential revenue stream. Target doesn't typically come top-of-mind when it comes to grocery. However, the Target loyalists will be pleasantly surprised to have the organic food options while they are making their Target runs. There is a significant long-term organic and packaged goods opportunity for Target, especially with the Millennial and Gen Z sects, who are fatigued with the high priced tags associated with healthy eating. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the Target organization.
  • Posted on: 08/19/2019

    Will a rental subscription program lift Banana Republic’s results?

    While it’s commendable that Banana Republic and other retailers have recognized the potential of a subscription rental program as another revenue stream, it's not clear that this will resonate or attract new Millennial and Gen Z customers to the brand. I just don't see this as a significant win for the Gap and Banana Republic team. The company has faced challenging times in establishing what the Banana Republic brand is all about. Are they now an aspirational affordable luxury brand, or stuck in the dreaded grey area known as the middle? The Rent the Runway team has emerged with the value proposition of wearing luxury/aspirational luxury apparel for a subscription fee. Their success has led to new platforms such as Caastle, to establish new revenue streams for retailers. However, while this will create some temporary buzz for Banana Republic, there are more fundamental merchandising, pricing and customer experience issues to address first.
  • Posted on: 08/13/2019

    Grocers develop their own tech responses to Amazon Go

    The greatest point of friction in the grocery shopping experience remains the checkout process. In some stores, a bad checkout experience could lead to customers shopping elsewhere. The pace of innovation is relentless, especially with what Amazon has accomplished with their Amazon Go pilot. However traditional grocery stores such as Kroger should take a far more conservative approach to test, pilot, and measure how the cashless experience resonates with their core customers. Certainly the Amazon Go convenience model works quite seamlessly in a smaller scale store. However the challenge is to scale up that operation, and if a Kroger chooses to take this route, what are the downstream implications and impacts to their cashiers and other members of their team? It's very much an organizational change management play, as it is an innovation strategy.
  • Posted on: 08/13/2019

    Is Nike’s new subscription program for kids a parent’s best friend?

    The struggle is real, especially with two young kids whose feet relentlessly keep growing! This is a brilliant move by Nike to not only drive engagement but establish more predictable recurring revenue via subscription services. Retail merchandising magic is all about the blending of art and science to drive outstanding customer experiences. However, the science part of the equation has to be equally matched by the right products and merchandising drops that will meet the needs of Nike’s extremely loyal customer base. Ultimately it will come down to the execution side, especially when the Nike customer is navigating across and shopping in multiple channels for their children's sneakers.
  • Posted on: 08/12/2019

    Does North Face’s new concept point the chain in the right direction?

    This is what retail transformation is all about. What The North Face is accomplishing with their new flagship store in SoHo, is providing their loyal customers with a place to connect, engage, experience and forge a stronger emotional connection with the lifestyle brand, well beyond their actual products. In concert with what Doug Stephens has shared, there is no better media format in retail, other than the physical store. A museum-like experience will resonate very well across many cosmopolitan cities for lifestyle-driven brands such as The North Face.
  • Posted on: 08/12/2019

    Nike to marry predictive analytics and RFID to optimize inventory performance

    Retail merchandising magic is all about the blending of the arts and sciences to drive outstanding customer experiences. Acquiring Celect is a step in the right direction to enable Nike to provide more prescriptive experiences, that are fueled by RFID inventory insights, as well as predictive analytics. However, the science part of the equation has to be equally matched by the right products and merchandising drops that will meet the needs of Nike's extremely loyal customer base. Ultimately it will come down to the execution side, especially when the Nike customer is navigating across and shopping in multiple channels.
  • Posted on: 08/07/2019

    Would a fashion collaboration work for Starbucks?

    Some merchandising crossovers make sense, and typically allow brands such as Starbucks to extend the experience beyond their coffee and cafe experiences. The Starbucks Roastery locations would be the ideal testing ground to experiment, innovate, and test product lines. Starbucks has already established a partnership with Spotify, and people could take their playlists with them wherever they go. The home, health, wellness and lifestyle sectors offer significant crossover opportunities. Particularly, Patagonia, Lululemon, and even Whole Foods could experiment beyond their core offerings, and extend the brand via apparel and lifestyle partnerships. A key consideration is to know that not everything is going to be successful or resonate with their core customers. Hence the need to pursue a piloted, controlled strategy.
  • Posted on: 08/07/2019

    Walmart trains quarterly for active shooter events

    It's a sad, sobering and depressing state of affairs. There is no need to overly politicize this, yet we live in a world where mass shootings in every public place are a possibility. Malls, places of worship, schools, concert venues, and places where people congregate, including Walmart, have become potential targets. We live in a world where bulletproof backpacks have shockingly become a back to school item. The new and nightmarish norm requires every organization, including retailers, to reexamine their standard operating procedures. Prevention almost seems impossible. However, the support services, counseling, and empathy are critical if such a horrendous event happens.
  • Posted on: 08/06/2019

    What are the signs of a dying retail business?

    These are the challenges that all retailers and client-facing service businesses face. Fundamentally, it's all about the customer experience across every physical and digital shopping channel. Any retailers or brands who are not laser-focused on driving an outstanding customer experience will be in this danger zone. The one area I would call out in the age of the customer is that retailers and brands have to have a purpose or a vision that extends beyond the actual product or service (i.e. Patagonia, Lululemon, etc). That vision/sense of purpose has to seamlessly extend throughout the operations, from the C-suite on down to the most important part of a retail business, the store associates. Without a sense of purpose or belief to motivate them, the customer experience will be negatively impacted.
  • Posted on: 08/06/2019

    CVS subscription program goes big to outdo Amazon Prime

    CVS's physical retail footprint has become ubiquitous and offering the CVS CarePass program will only add value and enhance the customer experience. Customers are already saving with CVS's existing rewards program which encourages more spending to drive additional discounts. CarePass will drive more engagement, sales, and offer the value that their loyal customers are looking for. CVS already has a very loyal customer and the in-person pharmacy experience matters, especially for follow-up questions, counseling, etc. What will ultimately come out of this experiment is an enhanced customer experience, and positioning the CVS brand at the top of the consumer's mind when it comes to pharmacy needs.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2019

    Kroger to make customers pay for cash-back debit card payments

    It's clear that all retailers, brands and especially grocery stores are operating under a very tight profit margin. There is tremendous pressure in the grocery industry, as the competition is picking up. Kroger charging customers for cashback debit card purchase is just not a good look for the company. By offering a cashback option, grocery stores have saved customers from another trip to the bank or another ATM. It is a nice and convenient service, but very doubtful that customers will be pleased by getting charged for cashback from Kroger. In such a tight and competitive industry, is this the right move for Kroger?
  • Posted on: 07/31/2019

    Who will seize the opportunity to turn stores into fulfillment centers?

    Leveraging the stores as fulfillment centers is the latest trend and, with the power of BOPIS, consumers have the ability to pick and choose how, where and when they want to receive their products. However the stores should not transform into distribution centers that are just for picking up products. Retailers should have a dedicated space in the stores for BOPIS pickups and returns, without disrupting the salesfloor. One of the most significant advantages of leveraging the store as a fulfillment space is that once you attract the consumer there is an opportunity to engage, entertain, build stronger relationships, and drive incremental sales on higher-margin products and services. It's not just about seamlessness or frictionless experiences. A physical storefront, showroom, pop-up, store-within-a-store, flea market, farmers market, or merely a physical presence matters more than ever. Considering that we are now relentlessly digitally connected, human beings by nature are social beings and enjoy in-person experiences, engaging with other people and creating new memories.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2019

    Is private equity ownership killing retail?

    For some retailers who have gone the PE route there were already fundamental flaws in their business model and years of store closures, failed initiatives, and a lack of focus on the customer experience which led them to such a fragile state. Just as there is a false narrative that Amazon is "destroying the retail industry," the same could be said of troubled retailers being bought by PE firms. When executed properly. and with the right consultative support, PE acquired retailers could make a turnaround happen by focusing on a major business transformation that centers their cross channel strategies around the customer experience. However, most PE acquired retailers are deep into cost-cutting mode, which includes store closures and staff reductions. For any PE success story to happen, it will take significant investments of time and money to truly give the retailer a fighting chance to remain relevant and profitable.

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