Demand had been low in the later months of last year amid political deadlock over Brexit and a December election.
Retail sales were up 0.9% in January, compared to December, a sign that British shoppers have started spending again.
The monthly rise was the biggest since March last year and, if fuel sales are excluded, the resulting increase of 1.6% was the biggest since May 2018. It follows a 0.5% fall in December, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Compared to January 2019, sales were up 0.8% but in the three months to January, they fell by 0.8%.
Sales did not grow at all over the period from August to December, the weakest such run since comparable records began in 1996. Demand had been sluggish in the later months of last year amid political deadlock over Brexit and then an election in December.
Ranko Berich, head of market analysis at Monex Europe, said recent figures suggest consumers were “joining in the burst of optimism experienced by businesses in the new year”. He added: “In isolation, you’d be tempted to apply the usual caveats and disregard retail sales as one data point in a volatile series, but other incoming UK data also suggests a strong pickup for the economy; business sentiment has improved sharply and house price growth has accelerated. Whatever the coronavirus shock and EU trade negotiations hold for the future, the UK economy has at least begun the year on a firm note.”
Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, also commented: “While this is positive news for retailers, following a difficult Christmas for some that was punctuated by deep discounting, some lingering caution remains. Consumers may still be in ‘careful shopping mode’, but for how long is yet to be seen.”