Total US retail sales fell 3.7% in the month of March, compared to the same month last year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

The NRF said that several months of stronger-than-expected retail sales had provided hope that the industry was poised to bounce back, but that March retail sales demonstrate that the industry is continuing to struggle.

Retail industry sales for March (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) decreased 0.6% seasonally adjusted from February.

"A chilly start to spring and a late Easter combined for dreary March sales," said Rosalind Wells, chief economist for NRF.

"To compensate for the Easter shift, retailers typically look at March and April together to get a better look at how their stores performed. Easter should give a much-needed boost to April sales."

The shift in Easter sales also played a role in consumer purchases of clothing and clothing accessories, NRF added.

Sales at those stores decreased 1.8% seasonally adjusted from February and decreased 8.7% unadjusted over March 2008.