Consumer Nation

Bigger Crowds at the Mall, and Just Wait Until Mother's Day

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They’re back.

At the end of last year, mall operators and retailers were wondering where all the people were. Despite higher retail sales, foot traffic at the stores declined in the final months of 2011, according to ShopperTrak, the world’s largest provider of people-counting services for retailers and malls.

The trend reflected an increase in purchases made online and on mobile devices as well as consumers consolidating store trips in the face of higher gasoline prices.

The news improved in the first quarter of 2012, with the number of shoppers in stores about flat with the year-ago period. However, since the second quarter began, traffic has been on the rise.

That’s good news for retailers, who see higher store traffic as an opportunity to turn browsers into buyers. And with rosy forecasts for Mother's Day spending, the news could get even better.

ShopperTrak said it expects national retail sales to rise 6 percent in the week leading up to Mother’s Day, while foot traffic climbs 3.7 percent.

“As the economy improves, consumers are recovering the confidence they need to splurge on Mom this year,” said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin, in a written statement. “Retailers can expect a busy week leading up to Mother’s Day.”

Barring excessive increases in gasoline prices and increased economic uncertainty, ShopperTrak expects foot traffic will continue to rise through the back-to-school season later this summer.

ShopperTrak’s estimate is more or less consistent with other Mother’s Day forecasts, which are calling for solid sales growth this year. The National Retail Federation, the industry’s trade group, for example, expects spending on Mother’s Day gifts to rise about 8 percent this year to about $18.6 billion.

Mother’s Day is the second biggest gifting holiday on the calendar behind Christmas.

Questions? Comments? Email us at Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.