U.S. retail sales rose for a third consecutive month in September, posting a stronger-than-expected increase that should fend off fears of a double-dip recession but doesn't signal a strong recovery. Retail sales rose 0.6% in September, the Commerce Department reported Friday.  Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had projected sales would rise by 0.4%.

The increase follows a revised 0.7% climb in August — the biggest increase in retail sales in five months. The Commerce Department initially estimated August sales rose by 0.4%.

Despite the September increase, retail sales overall remain sluggish as the nation's unemployment rate hovers near a 26-year high.

September's increase in retail sales was driven largely by purchases of automobiles, auto parts, electronics and appliances. Sales of autos and parts rose 1.6% in September, after rising a revised 1.0% in August. Excluding autos, all other retail sales climbed by 0.4%.

Clothing store sales dipped 0.2% in September as general merchandise sales remained flat. Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores increased by 0.2% in September. Gas station sales rose 0.4% in September. Food and beverage store sales also increased 0.4%. Furniture sales increased 0.5% while electronic, and appliance store sales jumped 1.5%. Sales at health and personal care stores rose 0.5%.
Mail order and Internet sales rose by 1.0% for the month.