People bought more cars and clothing at retail stores and online in September. An analysis of sales released Friday found the second straight month of solid gains. Retail sales increased 1.2 percent in September, according to the Commerce Department. Sales at retailers rose 0.6 percent, while online spending jumped 2.6 percent.
“Sales growth was notable on several fronts in September,” said Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research.
The rise came after strong performance in August, when retail sales increased by 1.6 percent.
Auto sales jumped 3.7 percent in September. Excluding autos, retail sales increased 0.6 percent, thanks to a 0.9 percent increase in purchases of building materials, tools and supplies. That was partially attributable to hurricane-related sales, which the Commerce Department did not provide an estimate of.
But the biggest category of retail sales, excluding autos, clothing and gasoline, was almost unchanged. That was noteworthy because economists expect that the hurricane-related economic activity would drive up sales of grocery and other goods in September.
Sales at gas stations rose 1.1 percent in September, the biggest gain of the past 12 months. Excluding that category, overall retail sales were relatively flat.
The best news for retailers in September came from online shopping, which jumped 2.6 percent, up from a 1.4 percent increase in August. “This is on track to be the best year for e-commerce in U.S. history,” Mr. Yardeni said.
Online shopping is expected to surge because of faster internet speeds, changes in payment and shipping methods and growing competition with other forms of commerce, such as restaurants and libraries.
The future looks even brighter: Over the next five years, spending on internet commerce is expected to jump 77 percent, according to the research firm eMarketer.
The Commerce Department did not calculate direct sales for online retailers because it can take longer than three months to pay for online purchases in some cases. Online sales excluding automobiles, gasoline and building materials increased 0.5 percent in September, compared with a 0.2 percent increase in August.
The Census Bureau report said September’s gains slowed in many categories, including gasoline stations, which fell 0.4 percent, electronics and appliance stores, which declined 0.3 percent, and department stores, which dropped 0.2 percent. The report also said the average retail price index, which includes prices paid for gasoline, gasoline stations and groceries, rose 0.3 percent. That was up from 0.2 percent in August.