January sales for many US retailers built on the momentum of a strong holiday shopping season with gift card redemptions, discounting and promotions to clear inventories helping to drive sales during the month, according to two sets of figures released today (14 February).

Figures from the US Commerce Department showed total sales edged up 0.4% in January from the month before, and were 5.8% higher than the same month last year. The monthly rise was marginally better than the revised "virtually unchanged" trend from November to December.

The government data showed sales excluding cars were 0.7% up on December and 5.5% higher year-on-year. Sales at clothing stores were flat with December, but 5.3% higher year-on-year, while sales at department stores were 1.0% higher than December and 1.5% up on last January. General merchandise stores reported a 2% increase in January sales.

The National Retail Federation (NRF), meanwhile, said January retail industry sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) increased 0.9% seasonally adjusted from December and 4.0% unadjusted year-over-year.

"Thanks to a combination of unseasonably warm weather across much of the country and millions of shoppers with gift cards burning holes in their pockets, retailers are still riding the tailwinds of consumers' spending power," said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay.

"As a traditionally slower sales month for the industry, it's encouraging to see such sustained growth in consumer spending and sentiment."

"A slightly improving labour market with gains in payrolls has lifted consumer confidence in January and corresponds with increasing retail sales," added NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz.

"However consumer spending alone will not be enough to sustain economic growth or provide a strong foundation for consistent retail sales and growth. We must see improvements in key economic indicators, such as housing and employment."