Americans shelled out $412 billion in November — 0.3 percent more than in October — as rising demand for cars and electronics, as well as an early holiday shopping season, lured them online and into stores, the Commerce Department said Thursday.
Car sales rose 1.4 percent to a four-year high as consumers replaced automobiles damaged by superstorm Sandy, which swept through the Northeast in late October. Furniture sales were up 1 percent, and electronics and appliances stores reported a 2.5 percent rise in sales.
“It’s a great start for the holiday season,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation. “It was a very solid report and we certainly saw a recovery in November.”
Sales at gas stations tumbled 4 percent in November, as pump prices continued to fall. Excluding gas station sales, overall retail sales were up 0.8 percent.
It has been a rocky few months for retailers, as looming worries about tax increases had consumers keeping a tight grip on their wallets. Retail sales grew 1.1 percent in September but fell 0.3 percent in October.
Department stores were particularly hard-hit in November, as sales fell 0.8 percent from October. At Macy’s, November sales were down 0.7 percent from the same month last year.
“Despite the largest-volume Thanksgiving weekend in our company’s history, we were not able to overcome the weak start to the month, which included the disruption of Hurricane Sandy,” Terry J. Lundgren, chairman and chief executive of Macy’s, said in a statement.
Some analysts warn that a jump in November sales may signal that consumers will buy less in December, because they may have wrapped up their holiday shopping around the Black Friday sales. In 2011, November sales gains of 0.4 percent were offset by meager 0.1 percent growth in December.
“This is pretty much as expected,” said Frank Badillo, senior economist at Kantar Retail. “I think we’re going to level off as we head into next year — unless, of course, things deteriorate given what’s going on in Washington.”