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: 11/14/2019

    Is ‘OK Boomer’ a merchandising opportunity?

    Everything in our lives could ultimately be merchandised. However the question is, does it really make sense to make such an investment of time, money, and resources in a viral social media phenomenon? With that said "OK Boomer" has become the rallying cry against stagnation, dealing with the status quo, saying that this is impossible and we've always done things this way. As Nike has proven over the past few decades, controversy sells. This fad may just resonate, even if it's for a limited shelf life. The lines between our social, digital and commerce worlds are blurring, and retailers and brands should leap at the opportunity to jump on a viral meme.
  • Posted on: 11/12/2019

    What’s in store for retail in 2020?

    These are spot-on Neil!
  • Posted on: 11/12/2019

    Amazon confirms it will open a grocery store not named Whole Foods

    This is a no-brainer for Amazon, as they have clearly expressed their intent to grow and compete in the grocery space. The Whole Foods acquisition has started the process with the more luxury end of grocery stores, however there are far more general merchandise and home products available at lower levels of retail which are not featured in the stores. It is also prime time for Amazon to reap the benefits of all the unoccupied big box stores such as the old Toys "R" Us, Sears and J.C. Penney locations. However, as we all can agree, the very tight margin grocery industry is extremely competitive, customers are brand loyal, and there are far more complexities to consider when starting a new chain from scratch, even for Amazon.
  • Posted on: 11/12/2019

    What’s in store for retail in 2020?

    It's clear that the blurring of lines between the social, digital and commerce worlds will continue to dominate the conversation well into 2020. The smartphone will continue to be at the forefront of our lives and the portal to how we engage, communicate, discover, socialize and interact with brands. The marathon to win the hearts and minds of consumers is ongoing, as brands are taking a very aggressive direct to consumer strategy by engaging with customers on social channels, opening showrooms, and driving new experiences that have been putting more pressure on brick-and-mortar retailers. Amazon will remain the default search, discovery and shopping app, however, their brick-and-mortar ambitions may intensify in both the grocery and convenience space.
  • Posted on: 11/07/2019

    Why do digital transformations often fail?

    There are no magic buttons to flip an organization to a digital-first, data-driven, customer-focused model. Digital transformations are one of the more key initiatives that companies need to invest in. However, the 70 percent failure rate outlined by McKinsey speaks to how challenging it is to take these transformations on. Legacy companies all want to act like a startup, take on these digital initiatives, drive personalization, act and move with increased agility and flexibility, but it's simply a difficult operation to take on while keeping the ship afloat. There are no big-bang approaches for digital transformations to succeed. Rather, the most successful transformations are a long term journey, with iterative pilot approaches, where companies can measure and analyze the results for a smaller segment of the company without the risks inherent with a big bang strategy. Digital transformations are truly a marathon and not a sprint simply due to all the organizational impacts and touchpoints.
  • Posted on: 11/07/2019

    Kroger to make fresh marketing start with a new logo, tagline and ‘Krojis’

    Change is always a good thing, and long-standing legacy companies such as Kroger periodically need to reinvent themselves. The grocery segment is hyper-competitive, and consumers are always seeking newness and a change of scenery from their usual routines. It will be critical for Kroger to turn their marketing refresh into true operationalized changes, that will be very clear during the customer shopping experience. Marketing and branding changes will need supportive people, processes, and technological investments to properly execute those initiatives at the store level. Kudos go out to the Kroger team for taking this big first step.
  • Posted on: 11/05/2019

    Retailers are ‘satisfied’ with their online customer journey optimization efforts

    It's far more challenging, but very critical, for retailers to focus on the online customer journey rather than their own grading systems. Going into 2020, all retailers and brands have to completely focus all of their energies around driving outstanding personalized and optimized customer experiences online. The customer journey has to be the center of the modern day retail operation. Data is the new oil, and driving personalized engagement via email, texting, and social media marketing campaigns is a key to driving interest and conversions. Amazon is at the forefront of leveraging its powerful consumer insights engines and algorithms to drive personalized offers. It's no longer sufficient to be satisfied with your own efforts. The consumer market will tell you how you are doing.
  • Posted on: 11/05/2019

    Will a sustainability push drive sales growth for Europe’s largest fashion e-tailer?

    Trust and transparency matter more than ever with the relationship between retailers/brands and consumers. The modern customer has high expectations for retailers around their stances on sustainability and environmental consciousness. It's clear that Europe, with companies like Zalando leading the charge, has established tangible operational plans around sustainability and their commitment to reducing their overall carbon footprint. The unfortunate reality is that while sustainability is at the forefront of plenty of conversations and PR announcements, it's rare to see any North American companies truly committed to this extremely important initiative. The North American market could learn from Zalando's experiences, how the company is executing its long term sustainability initiatives and operationalizing them, all while finding ways to drive profitability.
  • Posted on: 10/31/2019

    McDonald’s drive-thru AI knows what you want before you order

    Consumers always enjoy choice, and while speed, efficiency and getting the customers in and out of the drive-through as fast as possible means more volume and sales, the AI element is certainly a change that consumers will need to get used to. AI is slowly creeping into our lives, especially with how we search, shop and engage online. Companies such as Google, Amazon, etc. are continuously learning about their customers, and leveraging AI to drive better and more personalized experiences The only cautions are is that customers should have a choice to opt in to this, and know what the trade-offs are. If you want companies to "know about you," then their data privacy strategies should be very accessible and understood before you opt in.
  • Posted on: 10/31/2019

    Would LVMH-ownership be a good change for Tiffany?

    If this acquisition would go through, it would be a win-win for both luxury powerhouses. From an LVMH brand portfolio perspective, it would be adding a significant global player, Tiffany into their aggressively expanding luxury jewelry segment. The Tiffany team has made significant strides in transforming the image of the company and adapting to the needs of the emerging Millennial and Gen-Z shoppers. With that said, the Tiffany brand is a valuable commodity and the recent stock price prices have increased quite a bit since the announcement, as well as the improved overall performance of the brand. While on the surface, the deal makes complete sense for both companies, we should expect to see both Kering and Richemont make competitive offers as well. Let's see how this plays out over the coming weeks. Overall, it's extremely encouraging to hear about a strategic acquisition that is focussing on growth, expansion and combining forces.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2019

    AI needs to be more than just a bright, shiny object

    There are far more fundamental operational and customer experience challenges for retailers to take on before they should consider any AI focussed initiatives. The need for personalization is driving retailers to become increasingly proactive, predictive, and agile to create outstanding customer experiences. However, AI is the next wave of the evolutionary path for retailers, and this calls for a crawl, walk, run strategy, as there are far more change management and organizational considerations to account for. Purpose-led AI initiatives that solve real business cases are what is needed in the retail space. AI could potentially enable retailers to be one step ahead of the consumer, and drive personalized engagements that keep them coming back for more. Until the execution strategies are in place to operationalize any AI insights, it will, unfortunately, remain a shiny object and another takeaway from the NRF 2020 around the future fo retail.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2019

    Will six fewer holiday shopping days matter to retail performance?

    The shorter season should not be a concern at all. We live in a commerce 24/7 world, so the length of the holiday season, as well as the significance of Black Friday is not as meaningful as it used to be. Retailers are taking a far more aggressive, proactive stance in October, which was traditionally all about Halloween. Yet now we are seeing holiday promotions, store setups, and advertisements far earlier than we have seen before. Retailers have always had to be resilient, agile, and flexible enough to adjust for shifts in the calendar and selling season. With the lines blurring between the physical and digital worlds, BOPIS has emerged as a key differentiator to not only drive sales across channels, but to help to mitigate the last-mile challenges associated with a shorter holiday season.
  • Posted on: 10/23/2019

    Do angry shoppers make happier customers?

    I am all for some friction during the shopping experience, as it leads to a more interesting journey. However, you have to question the validity of this study, as an angry customer simply is going to abandon your brand for somewhere else where they are appreciated. There are enough anger- and hate-fueled social media posts out there, and consumers look to a retail store for a much more positive experience.
  • Posted on: 10/23/2019

    Best Buy is ready for Christmas with free next-day deliveries for almost everyone

    Speed of delivery, mitigating the last mile, next-day delivery guarantees have become a great public relations strategy for retailers, yet also could be a race to the bottom. Best Buy is one of our favorite retail renaissance stories as, in the middle of all the doom and gloom of the so-called retail apocalypse, the company returned to prominence with a combination of outstanding customer service, value pricing, price match guaranteed, and a much more curated assortment offering. Next-day shipping, as well as flexible same day BOPIS capabilities certainly matter. However, it's the other differentiators such as the in-store customer experience, the ability to experience the products, and matching competitor prices that represent where Best Buy could shine.
  • Posted on: 10/22/2019

    What should retailers do when brands post fake reviews?

    In the immortal words of my very wise 8-year-old daughter, "I don't trust product reviews. I don't know these people, and I don't even know if they are real." She does have a very valid point, and we put so much credence in the idea that these reviews are actually real, authentic, and represent a broad spectrum of customers. In all seriousness, Amazon's review-driven format has changed how we engage with brands during the discovery or showrooming phase. While, 89 percent of all shopping transactions still take place in the store, customers are increasingly dependent on online product reviews to narrow down their selections. But how could we have any confidence in the reviews, as there simply are no pressures for the FTC to regulate things? Yet in chaos there is an opportunity, as brands could leverage Instagram influencers to promote their products. If product reviews have become the new "fake news" customers will seek inspiration elsewhere.

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