The Commerce Department said retail sales climbed by 0.6 percent in December after edging up by a revised 0.2 percent in November. Sales at home furnishing stores saw a 4.8 percent bump and building materials retailers managed a 4.5 percent increase over 2015.
The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.7 percent increase in December. A number of department store retailers like Macy's Inc. and Kohl's Corp. have issued profit warnings for the holiday season.
Most of the strength was in auto sales, which jumped 2.4 percent in December, the biggest gain since April. "Consumer mood was bright after the presidential election and ensuing stock market rallies".
In October, retail sales rose 2 per cent from a year ago, but dipped 0.6 per cent without vehicle sales.
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The Commerce Department also reported improving retail sales on Friday, though those figures were helped by demand for autos - something excluded from NRF data. The increase for the fourth quarter over the same period previous year was 12.8%.
Receipts at clothing stores were unchanged despite a generally busy holiday season.
Consumers are still purchasing products from these companies, even if many of those sales are occurring away from traditional stores. Small and midsize retailers have taken about $200 billion in annual sales from retail behemoths over the past five years, according to consulting firm Deloitte.
Receipts at restaurants and bars fell 0.8 percent, while sales at sporting goods and hobby stores rose 0.2 percent.
And for holiday sales, which NRF defines as retail sales during the months of November and December, NRF said there was a 4 percent gain to $658.3 billion, including $122.9 billion in non-store sales, which were up 12.6 percent annually.