US retail sales jumped 9.8 percent in March compared to the prior month, as Americans spent more in restaurants and on sporting goods, gardening and cars, the Commerce Department announced Thursday.
Sales were 27.7 percent higher than in March 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns began, according to the report.
While rising energy prices have impacted inflation data for March, retail sales rose 9.7 percent even when gasoline stations are excluded from the calculation, the report said.
Sales at gasoline stations rose 10.9 percent compared to February, but as pandemic restrictions were lifted in many parts of the country, shoppers spent more on leisure activities.
And auto sales remain strong, rising 15.5 percent in the month -- nearly 30 percent higher than a year ago, according to the report.
Sales of sporting goods and hobbies led the charge, surging 23.5 percent, which was more than 36 percent higher than a year earlier, the data showed.
With dining out finally seen as a safer option, sales at restaurants and bars gained 13.4 percent, but are still more than two percent below March 2020.
Building material and gardening supply sales rose 12.1 percent last month, while spending on electronics increased 10.5 percent.
Total sales for the first three months of year are up 14.3 percent compared to the same period last year.
Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics said the results were much better than expected in March, sending a strong signal for first quarter growth.
"Activity bounced as severe weather effects reversed and another round of direct checks provided a lift to spending," she said in an analysis.
"A combination of factors will likely support household spending going forward, including enhanced unemployment benefits, rising incomes as job growth picks up and elevated savings that have accumulated during the pandemic."