Total sales in the month, adjusted for seasonal variations but not for prices, hit $404.6 billion in Wednesday's advance figures. That put sales directly in line with economists' expectations.
The sales figure for April was revised lower in the report to $405.2 billion.
Automobile sales were up 0.8 percent in the month but gasoline station sales were down 2.2 percent, leading declines.
Although down month-to-month, retail sales were up 5.3 percent compared to May 2011. For March, April and May, sales were up 5.7 percent compared to the same period a year earlier.