The results crushed the Street's forecasts. Analysts had widely expected retail sales to edge up 0.7%, according to Thomson.
The major gain comes at the heels of a disappointing 0.1% decline in April— the first drop since September 2006. Retailers blamed cold weather and calendar issues on the slip but some economists had wondered whether it reflected waning consumer confidence.
The May figures make that seem not to be the case. The upswing was broad based, with auto dealers, clothing stores , specialty stores and hardware stores reporting glowing results. Supporting the government's, the International Council of Shopping Centers-UBS Index announced last Thursday showed that retail sales rose 2.5% in May, versus a 1.9% decline in April.