WASHINGTON - Retail Sales rose 0.8% to $411.1 billion in March after climbing a downwardly revised 1.0% in February, the Commerce Department reported Monday.

The March gain was greater than the 0.3% median increase projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters. February's increase was originally reported as 1.1%.

On a year over year unadjusted basis, retail sales were up 6.5% for 2012, compared to March 2011.

Excluding autos, retail sales were up 0.8% in March after climbing an unrevised 0.9% in February.

The economists had projected a median estimate of a 0.6% gain for retail sales excluding autos for March.

Excluding autos and gas, retail sales rose 0.7% in March following a downwardly revised 0.5% gain the previous month. Excluding autos, gas, and building materials, retail sales went up 0.6% in March following an unrevised 0.7% advance in February.

The overall increase in retail sales got a boost from sales of building equipment and gardening supplies, which advanced 3.0% in March, the largest increase in that category since a 3.2% climb in December. Electronics and appliance stores also chipped in with that sector's strongest sales in months, climbing 1.0%. That was the biggest gain since a 2.4% rise in October.

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