Last month's sizable increase came after retailers' sales dropped by 0.3 percent in September and were flat in October, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The increase in retail sales in November — the largest advance since August — represented a better showing than economists were expecting. They were forecasting a 0.7 percent rise.
In other economic developments:
The retail sales figures are closely watched since consumer spending accounts for roughly two-thirds of all economic activity. Because of that, consumers play a key role in determining how the recovery unfolds. Consumers have kept their pocketbooks and wallets sufficiently open to keep the economy going even during difficult economic times.
In November, consumers' appetite to spend pushed up sales for many types of goods — from cars and electronics and appliances to health and beauty products.
Excluding sales of automobiles, sales at all other merchants rose for the second straight month by 0.4 percent in November. That showing was slightly stronger than the 0.3 percent rise economists were predicting.
Amid signs that the economy is gaining traction, the Federal Reserve on Tuesday decided to hold a key short-term interest rate at a 45-year low of 1 percent. Near rock-bottom rates may motivate consumers and businesses to boost spending and investment, which would lift economic growth.
The economy grew at a stellar 8.2 percent rate in the third quarter, the best performance in nearly two decades.
Some analysts believe the economy is growing at a slower but still healthy rate of about 4 percent in the current October-to-December period, as some of the stimulus that helped in the third quarter — another round of tax cuts and a wave of mortgage refinancing — fades.