US retail sales fell considerably short of expectations last month, with higher gasoline costs causing shoppers to cut back spending on items such as clothing.

The Commerce Department said retail sales rose just 0.3 per cent in March compared to predictions of 0.8 per cent growth, causing concern that the US economy may be entering a period of slowdown similar to that seen in 2004.

General merchandise stores reported a 0.7 per cent slump, while clothing specialty stores saw a 1.9 per cent plummet, attributed to the cold weather inhibiting purchase of spring lines.