U.S. retail sales (search) dipped 0.3 percent in January, as expected, as automobile sales fell sharply, but purchases outside the volatile car sector gained a healthy 0.6 percent, a government report showed on Tuesday.

While the drop in overall sales was the weakest performance in the Commerce Department's (search) retail sales measure since a matching 0.3 percent decline in August, the gain outside of autos surpassed Wall Street expectations for a 0.4 percent climb and marked the strongest monthly rise since October.

Sales of cars and parts fell 3.3 percent in January, partly reversing December's 4.0 percent surge, while furniture purchases dipped 0.1 percent, electronic and appliance shopping dropped 0.6 percent, and building material and garden equipment stores saw a 0.3 percent decrease.

Other sectors showed solid demand. Sales at clothing stores and gas stations surged 1.8 percent in the month, general merchandise sales rose 0.9 percent, food and beverage sales climbed 0.3 percent, and health and personal care sales increased 0.6 percent.

The Commerce Department revised December's retail sales total slightly lower, to a 1.1 percent gain from the originally reported 1.2 percent advance, but the number excluding autos was unrevised at a 0.3 percent advance.