British retail sales rose 1.2% in February from the month before, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed on Friday.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast that retail sales volumes in February would be 0.2% higher than in January.
Friday's data showed that retail sales volumes in February were 3.5% lower than a year earlier.
British consumers have been squeezed by inflation which hit a 41-year high of 11.1% in October and has remained in double digits since.
On Thursday the Bank of England said it expected inflation to fall faster than expected over the coming months, due to lower energy prices and the government's extension of subsidies in last week's budget.
The economy looks on track to avoid a recession which was widely forecast at the turn of the year, and a consumer confidence survey on Friday showed sentiment at a one-year high, though still very weak by historic standards.
But even taking these factors into account, government budget forecasters said last week that Britain was still heading for the biggest two-year reduction in living standards since records began in the 1950s. (Reporting by David Milliken; editing by William James)