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Virtual Window-Shopping Drives Record Holiday Season Store Sales

Virtual window-shopping online helped drive holiday-season sales at stores to a record high, even though fewer customers visited the malls.

According to ShopperTrak, foot traffic at the nation's retailers fell 14.6 percent between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared to the year prior, though in-store sales rose 2.7 percent in November and December. The retails analytics service had forecast that brick-and-mortar sales would rise 2.4 percent over the holiday season so their measure of $265.9 billion spent -- an all-time record --  was more than expected.ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin noticed a new phenomenon in the numbers. He said growth in online shopping means shoppers don't browse in stores as much. Instead, they do it online."It's a result of more and more technology in the hands of the consumer, which allows them to virtually window-shop," Martin said.That's not necessarily a bad thing, according to Martin. In 2007, shoppers made an average of 4.5 to five store visits per shopping trip. Now, they average three to 3.5 stores, but they go with the intent to buy."The stores are benefiting from fewer people." Martin told CNBC. "There's an automatic improvement in shopper-to-associate ratio. The people in the store are in there to buy. The retailers are getting higher conversion rates and higher average transaction sizes."(Reuters contributed to this report)