After a tough holiday season, many big-box retailers went on a cost-cutting binge. J.C. Penney, Macy’s, and Sears all announced that they would shutter dozens of stores each as shoppers increasingly shift online. But the carnage could have been much worse. Oddly enough, it was that very shift to e-commerce—the one bright spot for most retailers during the holidays—that spared even more stores from the reject rack.

The counterintuitive strategy boils down to this: If traditional retailers have any hope of countering Amazon’s dominance, it’s by using their brick-and-mortar stores as local arms of their online businesses. Whether or not that’s ultimately successful, a number of retail CEOs touted the idea during recent earnings calls.

Kohl’s, which had record online sales over the holidays while its overall business slumped badly, says that one-third of online orders are now either picked up in its stores or shipped by one (shaving a half-day off its average delivery time).

At J.C. Penney, 90% of e-commerce returns are handled in a store, giving the company another chance to wring more sales from those customers.

And Target says three-quarters of Americans live within 10 miles…