The increase followed a 0.1 percent drop in February, which was the third of three consecutive months of decline.
Much of the monthly gain was driven by auto sales, which were up a full 2 percent in March, the largest monthly gain for any sector. Sales also dropped at gasoline stations, but rose modest on a year-on-year basis by 10 percent. Last month's figures suggest Americans are returning to more free-spending ways. Economists predict that healthy consumer confidence, steady job gains and the impact of tax cuts will fuel solid spending growth in the months ahead. Many had expected a stronger bounce-back.
Total sales for the January 2018 through March 2018 period were up 4.1% from the same period a year ago.
NRF reported a 0.3% annual gain on a seasonally-adjusted basis from February to March, with annual retail sales in March up 5%.
"In short, a solid gain, but if anything a bit weaker in the key details than generally expected", said Jim O'Sullivan, chief USA economist at High Frequency Economics. 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 a year ago.
Furniture and home furnishings stores were up 4.1 percent year-over-year and up 0.7 percent from February, seasonally adjusted. Sales at health and personal-care stores rose 1.4 percent and auto sales rose 2 percent, the most since September.
But they fell at home and garden stores, clothing shops and sporting goods stores. The rise was mainly driven by a 2 percent growth in motor vehicle & parts dealers; however gains were comparatively broad based throughout categories.
Non-store retailers like Amazon continued to gain, rising 0.8 per cent for the month, putting them up almost 10 per cent over March of previous year. But most expect it will rebound in the second quarter and top 3 percent.