NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Retail sales rose for the third month in a row in March, beating economists' forecasts. According to the Commerce Department, sales grew 1.6% during the month, the largest increase since November. Analysts predicted a smaller gain of 1.2%. Sales were boosted by motor vehicles and auto parts, which soared 6.7%. Excluding this segment, sales climbed just 0.6%. Who's Getting Rich Off Your Spending? (Forbes) In other sectors, apparel sales increased 2.3%, building materials and garden equipment rose 3.1% and sporting goods, hobby and books advanced 1%. Electronic retailers proved to be a disappointment, however, with sales falling 1.3%. One interesting data point is the 0.3% decline in sales at gas stations. Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi said this number runs counter to the improving sales trends experienced by wholesalers like Costco ( COST) and BJ's Wholesale ( BJ), which operate gasoline stations at their clubs. The two companies reported same-store sales gains of 10% and 10.6%, respectively, in March. The gas-station sales decline also conflicts with the rise in gasoline prices across the U.S. Sozzi believes that shoppers, as prices at the pump creep over $3 a gallon, are starting to consolidate trips to discounters and malls. That should help one-stop shopping outlets like Target ( TGT) and Wal-Mart ( WMT), as well as malls that have big-box retailers attached. Though March was a month worthy of celebration, experts are wary about April. "There isn't enough evidence of a recovery trajectory that will result in a real improvement in the economy," said Kevin Regan of FTI Consulting. He called April a "test" month, since retailers must now decide on what they'll do with their inventory levels. "March could have been a temporary phenomenon," Regan said. --Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York. Follow TheStreet.com on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.