Back-to-school shopping helped lift retail sales by 0.5 percent in July, driven by spending on digital music players, laptops, and apparel, the National Retail Federation reported Monday.

Excluding vehicles, gas, and restaurants, retail sales rose 4 percent on a year-over-year basis, up from a revised 3.8 percent in June, the report said.

"Back-to-school shopping sprees and summer clearance promotions drove consumers to department stores and specialty stores in July," Rosalind Wells, the trade group's chief economist, said in a statement.

Last week, retail tracking firm Retail Metrics reported many stores were falling short of July forecasts. Its same-store sales index rose 2.9 percent last month, propped up largely by gains posted by Wal-Mart and drugstore chains.