Sales for the month were 2.8 percent higher than March 2012. But economists were surprised by the month-to-month drop. The consensus forecast called for sales to break even after they rose 1 percent in February, a figure revised from last month's release, which pegged sales growth at 1.1 percent.
With the revision, the bureau said sales from January through March were up 3.7 percent from the first quarter of 2012.
The bureau said non-store sales, which include Internet and catalog sales, were up 13.5 percent from March 2012.
Auto sales were also higher from a year earlier, up 7.4 percent.