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by Christina Cheddar Berk
CNBC.com

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.

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