Economists largely blame the weakness in retail sales at the start of the year on delays in processing tax refunds.
U.S retail sales recovered in March, rising 0.6 percent after falling 0.1 percent in the prior month. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected a 0.3% increase.
NRF reported a 0.3% annual gain on a seasonally-adjusted basis from February to March, with annual retail sales in March up 5%.
Online retail sales increased 0.8 percent in March and have risen almost 10 percent compared with a year ago.
In March, auto sales jumped 2.0 percent, the largest increase since last September, after declining 1.3 percent in February. Compared with past year, however, auto sales didn't make that much difference: total retail sales were 4.5 percent higher when vehicle sales are factored out.
Data on retail sales can be volatile from month to month, aren't adjusted for inflation and don't include spending on most services such as housing and health care.
Retail sales are closely watched by economists because they provide an early read on consumer spending, the principal driver of the USA economy. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.
"This is a healthy spending report despite market volatility, unseasonable weather and to uncertain economic policies", said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. He noted that on the macro level, they are "seeing both positive trends in consumer sentiment and spending". "Unemployment levels are at historic lows and incomes are rising, while the effects of USA tax reform are expected to further strengthen discretionary consumer spending".
Sales at gasoline stations declined 0.3% during March after growing 0.1% in February.
Sales were uneven across other segments last month.
Sales at furniture stores climbed 0.7 percent while those at electronics and appliance stores increased 0.5 percent. Spending at building-material and clothing stores fell. The organization said that the three-month moving average for the first quarter increased 4.8% annually, with total 2018 retail sales estimated to see an annual gain between 3.8%-to-4.4%.