The latest British Retail Consortium-KPMG report showed like-for-like retail sales lifted 2.6% last month against a 0.4% fall in December, which the survey described as a "disappointing Christmas."
It added that total retail spending lifted 3.3% year-on-year in January, up from a 1% rise the previous month, as new year discounts helped clothing sales pick up after a poor December amid unseasonably warm weather.
Overall, the report said sales were at their strongest since September.
But grocers remained under pressure as the supermarket price war continues, with food the only category in the report turning in a negative performance, with food same-store sales falling by 1.1% in January.
British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said: "January's performance was driven by big-ticket items, in particular furniture, which is encouraging in the largest month of the year for the category.
"However, the performance in clothing and footwear was driven by the new year sales."
The survey said that January is traditionally a strong month for furniture sales, but this month it recorded the highest growth of all retail product areas, which it called "a considerable achievement."
But discounting in the food sector remains intense, driven by the likes of Aldi and Lidl, with prices having fallen for more than a year.
Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of grocery research group IGD, said: "After encouraging Christmas trading, food and grocery sales settled back into the pattern seen last autumn of a slight year-on- year decline.
"Dry January has been gaining ground as a concept and sales of beers, wines and spirits were notably down on the same period last year."
David McCorquodale, UK head of retail at accountants KPMG, added: "Heading into February, retailers will be turning attention to the next big promotional event in the calendar, Valentine's Day, and hoping to take a decent share of consumer spend as they'll be facing stiff competition from both the experiential and leisure sectors."