January retail sales increased 0.5% over December results, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce – slightly better than the 0.3%  increase originally forecast by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. The report also showed December retail sales were adjusted upward, to a 0.1% decrease from a previously-reported 0.3% decline.


The Department of Commerce also confirmed that January retail sales, excluding automobile sales, gasoline stations and restaurants, were up 3.2% on a year-over-year basis. Retail trade sales were up 5.3% versus January 2009.


While conceding that the recovery still has a long way to go, Rosalind Wells, chief economist for the National Retail Federation, says the NRF is encouraged by the latest report and continues to see the economy show subtle signs of improvement.


Among growth drivers, retailers offered special deals aimed at enticing shoppers to hit the stores to use gift cards they received over the holiday season and stock up on clearance items in January.


Sales at electronics and appliance stores increased 1.2% seasonally adjusted and decreased 7.6% unadjusted year-over-year.  Clothing and clothing accessory store sales increased 0.3% seasonally adjusted month-to-month and decreased 1.7% unadjusted from January 2009. 


Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores also saw solid increases, with sales jumping 1.0% seasonally adjusted from December and 5.5% unadjusted year-over-year.


The housing market is still showing signs of uncertainty as sales at furniture and home furnishing stores fell 1.4% seasonally adjusted over the previous month and 6.4% unadjusted year-over-year.


As referenced in last weeks editions of SEW, the International Council of Shopping Centers, which tracks 31 retail chain stores, reported consolidated same-store sales for January improved by 3% on better inventory management and the aforementioned holiday gift card promotions.