Higher spending on clothing and back-to-school merchandise helped lift US retail sales in September, according to government data released on Monday (15 October).

Figures from the Department of Commerce show retail spending rose by a seasonally adjusted 1.1% in September compared with the month before, and jumped 5.4% unadjusted year-over-year.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores were 0.6% higher than in August, and 4.9% above September last year, and for sporting goods stores (also including books and music), September sales were up 0.8% on the month earlier and up 5.1% on year.

But for department stores, the numbers were down 0.2% from the previous month and 1.3% lower than the year before.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) said the results offer "a promising outlook for the critical holiday months ahead."

Its own figures showed September retail sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) increased 0.4% seasonally adjusted from August, and 2.1% unadjusted year-over-year.

"In spite of the uncertainty and unease surrounding our nation's high unemployment and long-term fiscal challenges, consumers continue to spend and shop," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said.

"Robust back-to-school spending combined with a series of new, technology-led product launches certainly helped retailers in September. The American consumer is holding their own in this economic environment but the question remains, for how long?"

NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz added: "With recent data painting a more optimistic view of consumer confidence, we can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.

"While the latest retail sales data indicates continued improvement for the economy, increasing gas prices and the looming fiscal cliff still pose serious challenges to the momentum we've seen in consumer spending."