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The U.S. Commerce Department reported today that overall retail sales, buoyed by online shoppers, rose 0.7% in August and were 15% higher compared to where they were a year ago.

The overall monthly gain in retail sales came as somewhat of a surprise, as economists polled by Reuters and The Wall Street Journal had been predicting an 0.8% and 0.7% decline, respectively.

The data showed back-to-school shopping in August and an increase in furniture sales helped offset the continuing decline in automobile sales, which have been impacted by inventory shortages.

Sales grew the most for internet retailers (5.3%) in August, reversing a big decline (-4.6%) in July. Monthly sales also rose for department stores (2.4%); groceries (2.1%); furniture and home furnishing stores (3.7%); and gas stations (0.2%).

Automobile dealers saw a drop in sales (-3.7%) in August, which came after an even steeper decline in July (-4.6%). Electronics and appliance stores also saw a drop in sales in August (-3.1%), as did sporting goods, musical instruments and bookstores (-2.7%).

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