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: 09/20/2019

    Is AI at the center of the retail technology universe?

    It's just not that simple to consider AI at the center of the retail technology universe yet. There are far more fundamental challenges for retailers and brands to prioritize and consider before making the evolutionary leap to an AI-led strategy and operations. Yes, retail is all about the delicate balance of art and science, and AI has started to be slowly integrated the mindsets and culture of retail organizations. However by simply leveraging AI capabilities, companies could initiate things by taking a crawl/walk/run piloted approach. Becoming a more prescriptive, customer insights-led organization involves parallel organizational, cultural and technological transformations.
  • Posted on: 09/18/2019

    Are grocers falling short in selling better-for-you foods?

    Its all about trust and transparency in retail, especially with all the health consciousness in the grocery arena. Today's educated and empowered consumers know what they are looking for, and they need minimal support from the store associates. The labeling, presentations and merchandising strategies should clearly distinguish organic/holistic foods from the conventional items.
  • Posted on: 09/18/2019

    Retailers approach tech’s cutting edge with caution

    Retail magic and merchandising are all about mastering the arts and sciences. Purpose-led technological investments only make sense when they are centered around solving a complex business challenge and driving outstanding customer experiences. Integrating new technologies have big implications for and impacts on the organization, and it is very much a cultural shift as well as an executive sponsored strategy to leverage them the right way. This is why we recommend taking a crawl/walk/run approach to any retail transformation, so there are specific, measurable, achievable relevant and timely objectives. It's critical for retailers and brands to stay true to their core purpose and enable these technologies to add significant if not incremental value for the customer experience.
  • Posted on: 09/17/2019

    How high will the holiday retail sales ball bounce in 2019?

    The relentless narrative from the media the past few quarters has been about our inevitable economic slowdown, the impacts of the tariff war with China, increased retail prices, and diminished consumer confidence. Yet there are positive economic indicators such as the market remaining somewhat steady, and our unemployment levels being at a record low. However when consumers and investors are bombarded with this daily doom and gloom narrative, it tells the same story we heard back in 2007-2008 of our impending doom, economic crash, and housing crisis. We may just get by this holiday season with some positive results, as retailers are taking a very aggressive value-oriented stance by relentlessly promoting and pushing holiday selling earlier than ever. There is a small window to capture the cost-conscious consumer, and while it may lead to sales comp gains, there will be a negative impact on the 4th quarter gross margins and EBITA.
  • Posted on: 09/17/2019

    Have U.S. malls lost their sense of community?

    One would argue that shopping malls never were a reflection of the local communities that they served. In hindsight, little if nothing was done to tie back the gathering place to the community, other than giving people a place to shop and plenty of national brands to choose from. The lifeblood of local communities are our main streets, downtowns, and mom and pop stores which sponsor elementary school kids' uniforms, have charity events and are accessible to all without the stress of dealing with shopping mall traffic. Indeed, the Long Island suburbs had the proverbial malls, which were the hangouts for all of us '80s kids and our families. The mall had everything under one roof: department stores, toy stores, arcades, movies and just a place to run around and burn off some steam. The malls and department stores had their heyday, but changing consumer preferences have irrevocably changed how and where we shop. Our family would rather shop local, connect with our community and support shop owners who have known us since our kids were babies. This is what community is all about, and why shopping mall traffic is dwindling by the day.
  • Posted on: 09/16/2019

    Macy’s elevates diversity goals

    Diversity, inclusion and a closer connection to the local communities that companies such as Macy's and others serve, should be embedded in the DNA of the corporate strategy and values. These values are imperative for all companies, including Macy's, to get right, as the workforce should clearly reflect the richness and diversity of our evolving workforce. From a business perspective, social, environmental and cultural consciousness matter more than ever. Patagonia has won the hearts and minds of their loyal consumers with their strong stances on environmental awareness. By taking a stronger stance on diversity and inclusion, Macy's could take a significant step of standing for something meaningful, beyond the actual transactions.
  • Posted on: 09/16/2019

    How profitable is online selling?

    There is such a misconception out there that online selling will eventually displace or make the brick-and-mortar experience irrelevant. That couldn't be further from reality, as pure-play e-commerce sales are approximately 10 percent to 11 percent of the total retail Q2 sales. Online shopping has plateaued somewhat, and the path to purchase is far more dynamic and includes a mix of physical retail, digital and social interactions before the transaction is completed. Michael Preysman and the Everlane team are following the playbook that a significant amount of digital native firms have established. With companies such as Away, Warby Parker, Bonobos and now Everlane opening physical showrooms, it's clear that the store serves as the best form of media. Brick-and-mortar is alive and well and will be an especially critical component for digital natives to get right in order to scale, survive and thrive.
  • Posted on: 09/11/2019

    WRT #digitaltransformation success

    Fundamentally, digital and retail transformation plans are completely dependent upon the quality of data. It's important for retailers to assess not only the quality of their data but also take a very comprehensive look at how they measure success and their KPIs across every single department of the company. Far too often, different departments at a retail company not only manage their businesses uniquely but things as fundamental as gross margin, inventory turns, conversion, etc. are measured differently. So the first steps of the digital and analytic transformations are to cleanse the data and align across the entire company as to what KPIs are leveraged to measure success. Analytic maturity is critical for retailers to get right, as we are living in a consumer insights-driven world. The culture of leveraging analytics to make purposeful business decisions has to extend from the top down, and there has to be a close partnership between IT and the business teams to remain agile, prescriptive and drive the transformation together.
  • Posted on: 09/11/2019

    Will Walmart have more success creating consumer direct brands than acquiring them?

    Walmart has learned plenty about the direct-to-consumer world from their acquisitions and experiences of working with the Bonobos,, ModCloth, and Eloquii teams. At this point, with Marc Lore at the helm of the e-commerce and digital portfolio, there is a significant opportunity for Walmart to start flexing their private label aspirations. Walmart has reaped the benefits of its digital native brands acquisition spree, and the retailer is well-positioned to drive a private label assortment offering similar to the value and margin driving model that Amazon has in place. Walmart and its loyal consumers will benefit from the company establishing differentiated, margin-enhancing assortment. The combination of value and quality will ultimately make Walmart's private label ambitions successful.
  • Posted on: 09/10/2019

    Will others follow Starbucks’ lead on employee mental health programs?

    Mundane, repetitive tasks such as making highly customized coffee drinks in a high stress, high volume environment is something that needs to be addressed. While it's encouraging that Starbucks is supporting their managers and baristas to engage with their customers, the typical store model doesn't enable that engagement. Most people are constantly on the go and are looking for more reward than friction. This does take a significant toll on the workforce who don't have a moment to waste. The mental health situation has become an unspoken crisis, as employees are hesitant to reach out for help or raise awareness around any issues they are facing as they do not want to lose their job. This is a commendable move by Starbucks, as their coffee house experience is highly dependent on a happy, supported and empowered workforce. There is a clear correlation between driving an outstanding employee experience and pushing for better customer experiences.
  • Posted on: 09/10/2019

    Nordstrom Local hopes for big returns from the competition

    This is such a winning proposition, with the stores having little to no inventory, driving the Nordstrom experience, building new customer relationships, and expanding the brand. It's not just about streamlining the returns process for the Nordstrom Local team. By opening up a new location on the Upper East Side, the Nordstrom team once again validates that any manifestation of a retail store has become the latest form of media. When the Nordstrom Local team launched the store in Los Angeles, the main strategies were to establish the location as a media point that enabled them to get into influential micro-markets they couldn’t otherwise penetrate with their traditional full-sized store footprint. The experience is the product even when the product is sold online.
  • Posted on: 09/05/2019

    Whole Foods wants a hand from shoppers at checkout

    Well stated Casey. Waving your hand will not fundamentally eliminate all the other heavy friction points at Whole Foods. People have already embraced all of the other flexible and secure payment options. The Amazon Go Just Walk Out approach is probably the longer-term strategy, however that will take plenty of time to scale, especially as there are so many more complexities to account for with the larger operation.
  • Posted on: 09/05/2019

    Will Jockey inspire brand loyalty with its very first pop-up shop?

    Pop-up shops when executed properly could be an outstanding form of media for brands, and Jockey is making the right move to help drive some brand recognition beyond their presence in the back of most department stores. Jockey is taking the right steps to reimagine what the brand could be by going direct-to-consumer, offering additional promotions and exclusive offers.
  • Posted on: 09/05/2019

    Whole Foods wants a hand from shoppers at checkout

    While this may remove a bit of friction during the checkout process, it's not a gamechanger that's going to mitigate the long lines at your local Whole Foods or the confusion in identifying if you bought dill or Italian parsley. Customers have already embraced other more seamless and secure methods of payments, including Apple Pay, Google Pay etc., and this represents another option. This is an incremental enhancement and not a solution to the other more friction-filled moments of the checkout process at Whole Foods.
  • Posted on: 09/04/2019

    Will Walmart’s customers accept its rejection of the firearms ‘status quo’?

    The dreaded CVS receipts! I am all digital now and I do not want a four-foot long receipt anymore! In all seriousness Paula, I couldn't agree with you more. The moves that Walmart is making truly represent a paradigm shift, and other brands will follow soon.

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