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Target CEO: Thanks Amazon, for teaching people to shop online

The executive offers a gracious assessment of the impact of the Web retail giant, but added he doesn't believe Amazon "owns that experience."

Target CEO Brian Cornell speaking at Recode's Code conference. Asa Mathat for Re/code

Target CEO Brian Cornell had two surprising words for online competitor Amazon: "Thank you."

Giving credit where credit was due, Cornell said Amazon helped shape the way Americans shopped, making it comfortable for them to make purchases online

"I think we almost need to say thank you to Amazon," he said at the Recode Code conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. "They've taught the American consumer how to shop online, but they don't own that experience."

Amazon, of course, is credited with felling a number of brick-and-mortar chains, from book giant Borders to electronic retailer Circuit City. Target, the fourth-largest retailer in the US, hasn't been immune, but has stepped up its efforts to cater to shoppers both in its stores and online. The result: More options for consumers.

Target is taking the online initiative seriously. Cornell said the company plans to invest $1 billion on online and other initiatives this year.

"I think we've gotten around to a point where we're completely aligned and that this will be a part of our future," he said.

Cornell hit upon a number of topics. Here are some of the highlights:

On security: While Cornell couldn't promise that Target customers were absolutely safe, he said the company has made a significant investment in changing its systems and educating customers.

"Every single day we worry about cyber security and taking our game to the next level," he said.

Target was notoriously one of the first major retailers to suffer from a massive hack that left millions of its customers' personal information exposed in December 2013. The result was then CEO Gregg Steinhafel stepping down, to be replaced by Cornell.

Cornell, however, quipped he gets the security question often. "I feel like I'm wearing a sign that says please ask Brian about hacking and cyber security."

On Apple Pay: "I would love to have Apple Pay in our system right now," he said, adding he sat down with Apple CEO Tim Cook and his team.

The hold-up has been the need to upgrade to a more sophisticated point-of-sales system that accepts what is known as chip and pin -- a credit or debit card with a smart chip built in -- that is also the same system that Apple employs with its mobile payment feature.

He called the transition "a major undertaking."

On smaller stores: Cornell said Target is testing "Target Express" stores, which are 15,000 to 20,000 square feet, as well as a "City Target." The company's main stores range between 95,000 and 135,000 square feet.

On Target's "Prime" program: A little known feature for members of Target's REDcard debit and credit card program, which acts like Amazon's Prime membership program and offers free shipping to members.

"For them, we already have our Prime program in place," he said.