Retail sales disappoint in August

But spending was better than initially reported in July, revised up to 0.4 percent from 0.2 percent.

"Retail sales gains continue to be tepid," said Jack Kleinhenz, NRF's chief economist.

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"Retail sales and employment, while measurably positive, have been disappointing over the last few months, and have been difficult to reconcile with consumer confidence," he said. 

Even back-to-school sales didn't help boost the figure.

"The data suggests that consumers remain cautious with their pocketbooks and purchases," Kleinhenz said.

Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic growth, so the retail report is closely watched for how consumers are feeling about making purchases. 

Consumers bought more furniture, electronics and cars last month but that was about it. 

Sales at electronics and appliance stores increased 0.8 percent and furniture and auto sales were each up 0.9 percent.

Meanwhile, sales were down 0.5 percent at sporting goods and hobby stores, they fell 0.9 percent for building material and garden equipment and decreased 0.8 percent at clothing and clothing accessories stores.