As the 2012 Christmas shopping season winds down, my general impression is that sales were good, up slightly from last year roughly along the lines predicted at the beginning of the season. Traffic, however, was distinctly down from past years, particularly later in the weekend. Also, it seemed to me that fewer people were waiting in line at the post office to mail presents.
If traffic was down while sales were up, it suggests that shoppers are making up their minds more quickly, or they are deciding on purchases before they arrive at the store. This makes sense in an era of search engines and the dozens of other Internet shopping tools. This slight trend may presage a larger shift in the way people shop, with the very time-intensive process of in-store browsing becoming less important.
One example of this comes from my local supermarket. Its web site allows you to pick a store, and then it will tell you the approximate shelf location of product you are searching for. This feature alone can reduce the time of a shopping trip from 25 minutes to 15. The time saving results in a reduction in traffic, but there is no corresponding reduction in sales.