So-called retail control-group sales, which are used to calculate gross domestic product and exclude food services, auto dealers, building-materials stores and gasoline stations, gained 0.4 percent, matching estimates.
United States retail sales rose for the first time in four months in March, boosted by a large increase in automobile purchases, but in real terms were weaker than expected by some economists.
Builders' view of current sales conditions fell two points to 75, the outlook for sales over the next six months fell one point, to 77.
Electronics and appliance stores were up 1.6 percent year-over-year and up 0.5 percent from February, seasonally adjusted. The results reinforce a Federal Reserve prediction that the declines were transitory, following increased spending after two hurricanes that struck the United States past year. "If you look at the quarter as a whole, we're not breaking out from the kind of real spending numbers we've seen the last several years".
Of 13 major retail categories itemized, eight showed increases.
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In comparison to a year ago, total retail sales were up by 4.5%. Sales at health and personal-care stores rose 1.4 percent and auto sales rose 2 percent, the most since September.
Consumer optimism has held at relatively high levels thanks to factors including job-market strength, rising wages and lower taxes. The numbers for March suggest consumers are once again willing to spend that to a mixture of good economic news and the impact of the tax cuts passed late past year.
Total sales grew at a 0.6% month-on-month pace in March to reach $509.4bn (consensus: 0.2%), according to the Department of Commerce.
That's when the March report on retail sales is due.
Economists forecast overall economic growth slowed to below 2 percent at an annual pace in the first quarter, after a 2.9 percent gain in the fourth quarter.