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June 22, 2012 6:08 PM

Business

Counting the Shopping Minutes

Let's forget hearts and minds for the moment, retail's also a battle for minutes and seconds -- and it's a fight the industry is losing....

Let's forget hearts and minds for the moment, retail's also a battle for minutes and seconds -- and it's a fight the industry is losing.

Americans spent on average 22 minutes and 12 seconds a day purchasing consumer goods last year, according to a new report from the Labor Department (which spent god knows how long figuring that out).

That's on par with 2010, but marks a drop of 2.6 percent since 2009 -- when the stock market tanked and the recession roiled -- and a decline of 7.5 percent since Labor's first Time Use Survey, which looked at 2003.

So over eight years that's just a drop of a minute and 48 seconds on average, but still that's a lot of shopping in a country with over 300 million people. What gives?

First, let's look at the things that are cutting into our shopping time over the past eight years: sleeping (up 1.6 percent to 8 hours and 43 minutes), eating and drinking (up 2.5 percent to 1 hour and 14 minutes) and watching TV (up a whopping 7 percent to 2 hours and 45 minutes).

Has TV gotten so much more interesting and shopping gotten so much less interesting? Probably not.

E-commerce, I'm betting, has much more to do with it. It's quicker to shop online and so one can spend less time shopping. And apparently if Americans can get by with spending less time shopping, they will.

This all strengthens the argument that retailers need to spend more time making stores that people want to actually spend time in and enjoy. And this doesn't just apply to Nordstrom or Saks Fifth Avenue.

I wrote a story last year about the trend toward smaller stores and Ron Pompei, chief executive of branding and store design firm Pompei A.D., told me this: "When you're that big, 100,000 square feet, it's a public space. You should think of it not as a big store, but a small village."

That's right. Seeing stores through that lens could lead to a better shopping experience and more sales.

J.C. Penney seems to be trying to do that by remodeling its center core area into a new area called Town Square.

It'd be a great test case, but there's too much going on at Penney's -- a new pricing system, new merchandise coming in -- to get a clear picture.

In the broader scheme, something should be done. Retailers are losing precious seconds.
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