Figures released by the British Retail Consortium today show a rise of 2.3 per cent on January 2010.
The figures do not include stores opening in 2011.
The rise has been attributed to discounting by stores ahead of the VAT rise to 20 per cent, and demand following bad weather in December which had prevented people from getting out to the shops.
The BRC has highlighted that the comparison month - January 2010 - was relatively weak.
Snow during the 2010 period had affected sales.
This year retail sales were higher in the first half of January, and fell in the second month.
Sales of food and goods over the internet also saw a slowdown.
The Director General of the BRC has said the slow down in sales occurred "as the reality of worries about jobs and personal finances returned to customers' minds"
Disposable incomes are falling as the Consumer Prices Index stands at 3.7 per cent and the Retail Price Index stands at 4.7 per cent.
On Thursday the Bank of England will meet to discuss whether to retain the base rate of inflation at 0.5 per cent.