All hope is not lost for bricks-and-mortar retailers, if they act fast.

"If I were a retail chain today, I would be looking at the best in class internet-only business in my sector, and I would be using my cash flow to buy them and move as quickly as possible online," Steve Odland told TheStreet in an interview on Thursday. Odland is the president and CEO of the Conference Board's Committee for Economic Development, and former CEO of Office Depot (ODP)  , AutoZone (AZO)  and grocer TOPS Markets.

"But they've got to act fast," said Odland, "because they don't have time to build it."

That's the main way, says Odland, to attempt to combat the online success story that is Amazon (AMZN)  which has bested Macy's (M) , Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD)  , Best Buy (BBY) and others in consumer goods.

Odland said Walmart's (WMT) recent online acquisitions underline that strategy. Recently, the world's largest retailer  has bought e-commerce sites Jet.com, which is like a mini Amazon in its breadth of offerings,  Moosejaw.com, seller of outdoor goods and apparel, and women's clothing retailer ModCloth.com. He added that Target (TGT)  is strong in e-commerce as well.

A former Sears store.
A former Sears store.

"Those that don't [make the shift to e-commerce] will be handing their business to Amazon," he added.

Bricks-and-mortar stores, he said are using a retail model hatched in the 1950's to sell in the 21th century. E-commerce has set up a system of "no harm, no foul," in which customers can buy whatever they want, have it delivered and can easily ship it back. If bricks-and-mortar retailers don't move to e-commerce quickly, the end of the line will be bankruptcy, added Odland.

"For a lot of retailers that are highly leveraged, any decline in sales wipes out 100% of their profit. Because you have an enormous fixed-cost base, you see retail rip [out] costs and close stores to reach an equilibrium," he said.

Nowhere has that failing model been more apparent than companies like Macy's, Sears and J.C. Penney (JCP) , which are mall anchors that have had to shutter store after store trying to right their ships.

Earnings from Macy's on Thursday showed first-quarter earnings of 24 cents a share, a wide distance from the earnings of 36 cents a share Wall Street analysts were expecting. The retailer's revenue declined 7.5 percent to $5.34 billion, compared to Wall Street's estimates for $5.48 billion. The troubled mall-based retailer also saw its same-store sales drop 5.2 percent for the three months ended April 29.

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Editor's Pick: Originally published May 11.

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