Like-for-like retail sales rose 2.6% last month compared to January 2007 but sales of fashion slowed for the fourth consecutive month according to the British Retail Consortium.
Total retail sales rose 4.6% in January but clothing sales were down on a year ago despite heavy discounting.
The BRC added that consumer confidence had fallen further and that shoppers remained wary of committing to major purchases and continued to be price-sensitive and discount-driven.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: "Following three months of weak year-on-year growth, this appears to be significantly better but the figures don’t mean consumer confidence is reviving yet. The headline results conceal a mixed picture. In part, rising overall sales values were caused by increases in some food prices. Despite the January Sales, clothing sales were down on a year ago. Many retailers will be glad the boost from Valentine’s Day is followed rapidly this year by Mothering Sunday and an early Easter."
KPMG head of retail Helen Dickinson added: "While the 'doom-mongers' may be temporarily silenced by this month's results, it's certainly too early to draw any conclusions about how the rest of the year will pan out. The growth of 4.9% in total and 2.6% in like-for-like sales was heavily skewed by a strong performance in week one, as January Sales absorbed demand carried over from a poor December, which then deteriorated as the month progressed. Clothing, particularly women's, continues to underperform."