The holiday season, which is by far the most important time of year for retailers, highlights the increasingly intense battle between physical stores and online websites. Given the large number of casualties this year — witness the bankruptcy filings of such venerable institutions as Toys ‘R Us, The Limited, H.H. Gregg, Gander Mountain, Payless Shoes, and RadioShack, to name but a few — retailers must finally wake up to the core terrain over which they’re fighting: customers’ time.
Online retailers offer consumers time well saved. People can find what they want, when they want it, with incredible ease and convenience, and with the physical good shipped directly to their homes in a matter of days (and increasingly, in large cities, hours). As often as not, they don’t even have to pay shipping costs, and returns are a relative breeze. While the U.S. Census Bureau puts e-commerce’s share of