Purchases at auto dealers decreased 1.2% in March after a 1.5% drop; industry data showed sales of cars and light trucks fell to a 16.5 million pace, the slowest in more than two years Receipts at gasoline service stations fell 1% in March; the retail figures don't reflect changes in prices Retail sales excluding autos were little changed for a second straight month.
The Commerce Department said on Friday retail sales dropped 0.2 percent last month.
All other sectors saw increases over the same month past year, with the miscellaneous retail stores category posting the third best gain of 6.5%. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales slipping 0.1 percent last month. Before February, the struggling department store sector had posted the worst sales results for five straight months.
He also warns "The downturn in auto sales is going to be a headwind for retail in general".
These increases could be related to consumers' desire to shop at stores holding sales prior to closing.
Soft sales at the start of 2017 have largely been concentrated among auto dealers, gas stations and, to a lesser extent, department stores.
Separately, the Labor Department said its Consumer Price Index fell 0.3 percent in March, the first decline since February of past year.
For the first time in almost two years, retail sales declined two months in a row, highlighting once again the current challenges facing a retail industry that has suffered a number of bankruptcies and store closures so far in 2017.
Winter Storm Stella, which blasted through the Northeast in March, may have also impacted sales in March. But electronics and appliances store sales recorded their biggest rise since June 2015.
That has forced retailers like J.C. Penney Co Inc, Abercrombie & Fitch and Macy's Inc to scale back on brick-and-mortar operations.
These so-called core retail sales, which correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, were previously reported to have edged up 0.1 percent in February. "We expect a bit of both". The cost of food consumed at home increased 0.5 percent, the biggest gain since May 2014.