The gains mark a sharp rebound from a lackluster period of sales dating back to December. It's a sign that the healthy job market has likely made consumers more eager to spend in ways that boost overall economic growth.
"For the first time in months, markets were finally presented with an upbeat report on U.S. retail sales," said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist with BMO Capital Markets. "Americans hit the malls with a vengeance."
Sales at gas stations climbed 3.5% in March, while spending at auto dealers jumped 3.1%. Clothiers reported a 2% gain and furniture stores enjoyed a 1.7% bump. Out of 13 retail categories, only one — sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and book stores — reported a sales decline.
Spending at department stores was unchanged in March. Purchases in the sector that includes online businesses enjoyed a 1.2% increase. Restaurants saw their sales improve 0.8%. Excluding autos and gas, retail sales increased by a still solid 0.9%. The ramp up suggests that consumers feel confident enough about their finances to maintain their spending, overcoming fears after retail sales in December plunged 1.6%, partially recovered in January and declined again in February.
During the past year, retail spending has grown 3.6%. "The fundamentals for consumer spending are solid," said James Marple, senior economist at TD Bank. "While the pace of gains are unlikely to match the stimulus-fueled pace of the past year, they will put a solid foundation under economic growth that is likely to average around the 2% mark over the remainder of 2019."