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Cramer: Mystery of the Missing Traffic

Editor's Note: This article was originally published at 7:31 a.m. EDT on Real Money on Aug. 23. To see Jim Cramer's latest commentary as it's published, sign up for a free trial of Real Money.

NEW YORK ( Real Money) -- We've seen a major conundrum this retail season and it is on the minds of every retailer I know: the dramatic -- and that's not too strong a word -- decline in traffic, in people coming to the stores.

Think about it. Almost every retailer who missed expectations complained about traffic, particularly the apparel retailers. When you studied that horrendous miss from Abercrombie (ANF - Get Report) -- and everyone should study it so you never get caught in a teen apparel mess again -- you come back to one word: "traffic." They simply couldn't get people into the stores. Same with all of the other cascading teen apparel stores that had been such a hotbed of hedge fund activity.

But Macy's (M) didn't get the traffic it wanted, nor did Nordstrom's (JWN).

It's been the common denominator for all but home goods stores, closeout stores and highest fashion apparel, as opposed to say the V.F. Corp. (VFC) materials sold at department stores and the Nike (NKE - Get Report) clothing sold at Dick's (DKS - Get Report) (I am saying Nike because Dick's specifically said there was no problem with Under Armour (UA) clothes.)

Even Gap (GPS - Get Report), which reported a stellar quarter last night (truly terrific with a guide up and dividend boost and one that we like for Action Alerts PLUS) talked about a decline in traffic for its stores.

Very puzzling.

So let me trace out a theory. I think this might be the quarter, and the year, where the stay-at-home shopper, using all of these cool Web sites, trumps the person who gets in his or her car and goes to the shopping center or the shopping mall (remember from the REITs they are two different things, but for the purposes of this thesis they are the same.) The hassle-free Web experience has now trumped the hassle-plenty mall existence which, at a time where disposable income isn't increasing, could be the key to the declining traffic. Ask yourself, have you bought goods at the Web site of the company you want the product of where you might have gone to the mall to get it otherwise? You bet you have.

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