A cold snap in the US during October has given an unexpected boost to consumer sales.

The wintry weather across much of the country prompted shoppers to buy warmer clothes and retailers, such as Wal-Mart, beat Wall Street forecasts with a 3.9% hike in sales. The discount chain Target said sales rose 5.7%, with women's and children's clothing a top performer.

At the other end of the spectrum, upscale stores such as Nordstrom beat estimates with a 6.4% sales increase while Neiman-Marcus did even better, jumping 7%.

Overall same-store sales rose 4.4% ahead of 3.9% estimates, according to researcher Retail Metrics. The firm's president, Ken Perkins, says: "As we head into the all-important holiday season, the glass appears to be half-full compared to the half-empty outlook at the start of September."

However, stores have tempered their optimism with caution. Many have brought forward their holiday season promotions a week ahead of last year to tempt shoppers into the malls while gasoline prices ease.

Analyst John Morris says as the first home heating bills arrive "retailers believe that the earlier they can get their message out, the better chance they have at getting people to open their wallets".

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff