WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans bought more clothes in December, shopped more frequently online and ate out more often, providing a boost to economic growth at the end of the year. But sales at most traditional stores declined, as the holiday shopping season ended on a lackluster note.
Retail sales rose 0.2 percent last month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That follows strong gains in October and November, helped by healthy auto sales.
In December, car and truck sales fell 1.8 percent due to colder weather and Black Friday discounts that moved some sales into November. The decline held back overall retail spending that did show some signs of underlying strength.
Excluding spending on autos, gas and building supplies, retail sales rose a solid 0.7 percent. Economists say this figure is a better proxy for confidence in the economy, because it does not include the most volatile categories.
For all of 2013, total retail sales rose 4.2 percent, the weakest gain in four years.
The report showed less spending at traditional holiday outlets. But the December gain should be enough to help generate 3 percent annualized growth in the final three months of 2013, said Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.
Online sales grew 1.4 percent in December after a 1.6 percent gain in November. Consumers also spent more at clothing stores, grocers and restaurants last month.
Still, consumers spent less at the types of stores usually measured for holiday shopping. Furniture and electronics purchases fell last month. And sales at department stores fell a whopping 0.7 percent in December — and 3.3 percent for the full year.
Also Tuesday, the National Retail Federation said holiday sales rose 3.8.percent, higher than last year's 3.5 percent pace. But sales came at the expense of profits as stores had to discount early and often.