Good weather and sales promotion in stores drove consumers into malls in May as the summer shopping season began.
Major chain stores posted a 4.3 percent sales increase in May compared with the same month a year earlier in figures released Thursday, beating analysts' expectations of a 3.9 percent rise, according to Thomson Reuters' tally of nine big retailers. Stripping out the effect of drugstores, last month's retail sales were up 4.4 percent.
Shoppers who stayed home during long bouts of cold weather this past winter have returned to stores to spruce up their wardrobes, analysts said. Thomson Reuters noted that mall traffic improved during the long Memorial Day weekend.
May was the third straight month for which sales exceeded expectations. Costco Wholesale Corp. saw sales rise 6 percent. Action-sports chain Zumiez Inc. enjoyed a 3.6 percent bump. L Brands, parent company of Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, said sales rose 3 percent.
Healthy retail sales, along with a pickup in areas such as manufacturing and construction, are giving a boost to the U.S. economy, according to a Federal Reserve survey released earlier this month after a harsh winter shrank business investment and pushed down growth in the first quarter.
Industry watchers said that promotions and other discounts retailers are using to draw shoppers in will continue through the summer. June is often a challenge for the industry because consumers are going on vacation or enjoying the outdoors instead of hitting the malls.
Results are based on sales at stores open at least a year, a gauge known as same-store sales and considered an important measure of a retailer's health because it excludes the effect of stores' openings and closings.