Excluding autos and building materials, the picture as a bit brighter as sales came in flat.
Consumers clammed up on spending in February and the labor market continued to weaken as the economy teeters on the brink of recession, government data on Thursday showed.
Retail sales plunged 0.6 percent last month in a wide range of areas, the Commerce Department reported.
Economists were expecting a 0.2 percent rise in retail sales after an upwardly revised 0.4 percent gain in January. Excluding autos, sales fell 0.2 percent in February, a far weaker reading than the 0.2 percent gain economists had forecast.
Excluding gasoline, building materials and autos, spending was flat after a 0.3 percent gain in January, showing a damaged economy well beyond the weakened housing and credit markets.