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: 08/14/2018

    Can H&M finally become a serious online competitor?

    If the H&M digital experience is consistent with the in-store experience, then it will act as a natural extension of the brand. Potentially it could evolve into a somewhat meaningful selling channel if executed properly. The consistent dilemma we are seeing is that retailers and brands are making significant investments in their digital platforms believing that this will be the cure-all for all their assortment and inventory challenges. Digital, along with mobile when done right, is an outstanding platform and could result in expanding the H&M brand reach. Yet the challenges that H&M is facing are more fundamental in nature. Technology innovation is always crucial, however the brand needs to really assess their assortments and optimize their inventory and overall strategies in order to spark a turnaround.
  • Posted on: 08/14/2018

    ‘Less is more’ when competing with Amazon

    Curated assortments aside, in the new retail world less is absolutely more. The main motivators for consumers to go to a physical location are the curated and value-added experiences that they would be unable to achieve from a pure digital journey. I believe that the last two bullet points, curating knowledge and curating talent, are the main competitive differentiators for any brick-and-mortar or digital-native companies with physical store expansion plans. The Amazon value proposition and ease of shopping will always be there, and perhaps it's the default option as your starting point. Yet, it's the value-added store associate/brand ambassador one-on-one experience which consumers really enjoy. If that brand ambassador is also passionate about the product and drives the experience, regardless of what tools they use, then you have a winner. Store formats truly matter as well. Mixed-use spaces are driving the market these days. Perhaps the customer just wants to spend an hour or two at the store without buying a product. By having cafes or areas to connect in the store you help to forge these relationships, which will ultimately translate to brand loyalty and sales.
  • Posted on: 08/13/2018

    Can AR help shoppers get where they need to go?

    It's challenging enough to navigate through shopping centers and malls with everyone glued to their smartphones and not paying attention to their surroundings. "Augmented Reality" (AR), along with "Artificial Intelligence," "Cognitive" and "customer experience," has become one of the industry buzzwords. However for AR to truly be successful, it has to be applied in the right way, and as an enhancement to the customer shopping experience. Implementing technology for technology's sake is not the right approach at all. Navigating through the mall has been enhanced by digital signage and town center-like approaches. AR has really started to achieve a bit of critical mass in the home decor, lifestyle and beauty categories. I am just not sure I see how the Blippar Visual Positioning System will resonate.
  • Posted on: 08/13/2018

    J.C. Penney goes after Babies ‘R’ Us customers with new shops

    Lifestyle categories simply resonate with consumers and with the baby segment wide open, now that Babies "R" Us has left a gap, it's a very wise move for James Starke and the J.C. Penney team to capitalize on this opportunity. Having gone through the baby stage, and now that we are well in the young kid stage, our family enjoyed and still appreciates the in-store shopping experience for toys, clothing and other essential items. There are multi-sensory experiences with these products that you are unable to achieve by shopping in the digital channels. You might ultimately buy it online, but trying out the products is a key element. J.C. Penney has had their challenges in identifying who their target segmentation is. However, only focusing on one segment, the Baby Boomers, the company will be missing out on some significant opportunities. Department stores that have survived and thrived attract multiple shopping targets, and with these baby shops J.C. Penney is taking a step in the right direction.
  • Posted on: 08/07/2018

    Starbucks prepares for a Bitcoin future

    If any major retail or service corporation is going to make the leap to adopting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it's going to be Starbucks. The company has done an outstanding job of seamlessly integrating multiple payment options with their loyalty and ordering app. While we should expect most other retailers to take a very cautious crawl-walk-run approach to accepting Bitcoin, certainly Starbucks could kick things off. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.
  • Posted on: 08/07/2018

    Where does art end and retail begin?

    This development is nothing new. If anyone has spent any time in any major art museum, the last part of a major art exhibition is always the curated merchandising experience at the end. If done properly, the commerce part of the experience will be executed in a way that makes it a natural extension of the exhibit journey, and not just another room to shop in. Museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art have done such an outstanding job of curating experiences that compel you to buy without the pressures of going to a department or specialty stores. It's just a last step of the exhibition. The blending of the art and science has been part of retail, and now the move to a more experiential model only cements this fact. Retailers outside of the art and museum space should take heed, and curate experiences that will result in sales -- and loyalty.
  • Posted on: 08/06/2018

    Kroger takes on Visa

    Change is constant in retail and commerce, so we should expect other grocers and retailers in the battle to maintain margins to follow Kroger's lead in helping to mitigate the credit card transactions fees that often get absorbed by the cost of the products. However, Kroger's response to Visa does create some constraints on choice, as it's one of the more ubiquitous credit card options. There are ways to mitigate this by leveraging Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal and other options, which helps to reduce the transaction fees associated with credit card usage. In this balancing act, Kroger should provide another viable option for the Visa cardholders, otherwise they may end up alienating a subset of their customer base.
  • Posted on: 08/06/2018

    Are outsiders required to tackle disruption?

    There's a delicate balance that companies have to consider when bringing in senior talent from outside the organization. We've seen organizations benefit significantly by adding the right senior leadership, yet one of the main considerations when doing so is determining if the executive is the right cultural fit for the company. Do they have what it takes, to blend in, lead, inspire and drive the company to the next level? When considering cultural fits, organizations have to realize that culture isn't the enemy of strategy and performance, but an equal player in the game not to be underestimated. Culture does indeed eat strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so companies should tread carefully when they choose leaders from the outside.
  • Posted on: 08/02/2018

    Wayfair to open its first brick & mortar store

    Wayfair's move to open a physical store is yet another example of the importance of the brick-and-mortar retail experience. We have seen this narrative play out with Bonobos, Warby Parker, Indochino, Casper and other digital native brands. Similar to any of the emerging digital native e-commerce brands, Wayfair has hit the size and scale where a physical showroom will act as an extension of the brand, a media outlet, a conduit to building relationships with customers, connecting with their local communities and most importantly providing an outlet for customers to have a multi-sensory experience that they would not have been able to do otherwise. Retail has no boundaries, and we should continue to see digital native brands extending into the physical space via permanent stores, pop-ups and store-within-a-store concepts.
  • Posted on: 08/02/2018

    Six-year-old YouTuber is the face of Walmart’s new toy line

    Without question the concept and power of influencers and micro-influencers for that matter extends down to even a six-year-old. As a father to both a five- and seven-year-old, it's clear that this upcoming generation is extremely digitally savvy and, like any other demographic, very influenced by their peers. So yes, it's a very smart and strategic move by Walmart as they extend their brand reach to a younger demographic. Rather than the traditional advertising and TV advertisements of our youth, these sort of unboxing and product review YouTube videos really resonate with my kids and their friends. They often act out these sort of unboxing scenarios and product reviews whenever we buy them toys or gifts. So for Walmart, this move is a very high reward and low-risk proposition.
  • Posted on: 08/01/2018

    Zara bets on faster deliveries from stores to boost online growth

    The quick answer to store fulfillment becoming the norm for online orders is that it depends on the type of retailer, and the need for an ever faster speed to market. Fast fashion retailers such at Zara should absolutely capitalize on leveraging their stores as a fulfillment center, and help to mitigate any last-mile challenges. The challenge any fast fashion or mass merchandising fashion retailer will face is the ability to scale, enabling a BOPIS operation to take place seamlessly within the confines of a smaller store footprint. There will be complexities that will need to be worked out. Such as where the dedicated BOPIS station will be, which store associates will be dedicated to these operations, how the in-store notifications will work when the customer comes to the store, reverse logistics processes and so on. While on the surface enabling BOPIS in a fast fashion environment such as Zara makes all the sense in the world, there are plenty of considerations to work out before you take the plunge.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2018

    What can retailers do about consumer’s AI concerns?

    AI as a concept has too many irrational fears associated with it, especially for those who grew up during the heyday of the Terminator movies. There really is no need to publicly state that a particular retailer is leveraging AI or other predictive insights. Rather, these are tools and solutions at the retailer's disposal, as they work to provide a seamless, personalized and localized shopping customer experience. Retailers know that the Holy Grail of shopping remains -- having the right product, in the right place and at the right time. That fundamentally will not change until the end of time. Simply put, commerce will remain commerce regardless of the physical or digital channels. The challenge for retailers will be to take a crawl/walk/run approach when it comes to the power of AI. As the technology evolves and matures, we should expect these insights to be at the retailer's disposal, and it will empower the merchandising teams to operationalize on these valuable consumer data points.
  • Posted on: 07/30/2018

    Does Five Below make sense for 5th Ave?

    It's really fascinating that this is even a question. Fifth Avenue's true luxury blocks extend well above 47th Street. However, Fifth Avenue always has and always will be a retail showcase for all types and retailers operating at varied price ranges. So we should expect Five Below to not only survive but thrive on Fifth Avenue with all the tourist traffic. The rise and omnipresence of the off-price and bargain-priced retailers over the past 15 to 20 years is a reflection of the overall economic conditions of our country, but also that consumers enjoy the treasure hunt or bargain shopping in general. The market conditions have changed things dynamically, and now Five Below has a home on Fifth Avenue.
  • Posted on: 07/30/2018

    Retail’s new cobbling economy

    We are absolutely seeing an increase in the amount of digital and physical retail partnerships. However, for this to truly be successful the partnership needs to revolve around a complementary offering that works for both brands. It truly has to make sense and provide a value to the customer, especially when the customer isn't even that aware of it. Spotify's partnerships with physical retailers including Starbucks, J.Crew, and others are a perfect example of a partnership that is paying dividends for both the physical and digital brands. Starbucks and J.Crew are able to extend their brand experience well beyond the product to the world of music, entertainment and lifestyle. Meanwhile, Spotify has another channel to extend their reach, beyond the digital channels, and acquire new customers. We should expect to see some trial and error in this arena, yet once a digital/physical partnership hits, it's like liquid gold for both brands.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2018

    Lululemon goes shopping and finds its new CEO at Sephora

    What an ideal marriage of a company on the rise and a proven leader to build on that momentum, enhance the brand and drive the company towards sustainability and growth. Lululemon has had their challenges of late, but have turned things around. Now with McDonald's leadership, and his history of focusing on personalization and enhancing the customer experience across platforms, the company has a real shot at sustainable growth for the next several years. The same in-store and cross-channel transformation that took place at Sephora could easily be extended to the Lululemon brand, which already has a very lifestyle-oriented business focus and an obsessed fan base. Knowing that McDonald will bring in the right leadership to help drive this growth will make for some very interesting times at Lululemon.

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