Retailers continued to battle "tough" conditions in January, but experts pointed to higher sales during a typically difficult month for trading.
Figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG showed like-for-like retail sales rose 0.6% in January, compared with a fall of 0.6% for the same month in 2017.
Total sales rose 1.4% last month, following a rise of just 0.1% a year ago.
It was dubbed a decent performance by experts as the post-Christmas period tends to put a strain on sales.
Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive, commented: "The persisting tough trading environment played out at the start of the year with a mixed set of trading updates and subsequent announcements.
"Sales as well as profits are seemingly harder to come by.
"Against this challenging backdrop, 2018 didn't have a bad start during what is traditionally a lean month, with sales creeping up in line with the year's average."
She said that the sector continued to struggle from "divided fortunes" for food and non-food sales.
British households are still in the midst of an income squeeze on the back of higher inflation and weaker wage growth that has left consumers with less cash for non-essentials.
Food sales increased 2.9% on a like-for-like basis in the three months to January, while total sales rose 4.1% over the period.
In contrast, like-for-like non-food retail sales fell 1.2% and dropped 0.6% on a total basis.