According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), sales volumes were just 0.1% ahead of December when they fell 1.4%.
That dip was attributed to a strong November that saw shoppers hunting Black Friday bargains in a retail sphere hit by a Brexit-linked squeeze on living standards.
Wages have failed to keep pace with inflation since last spring, denting demand, though economists had expected 0.5% growth in volumes because December had proved so weak.
The picture for the three months to January was no better – with growth of just 0.1% on the same period last year.
Senior ONS statistician, Rhian Murphy, said: “Retail sales growth was broadly flat at the beginning of the New Year with the longer-term picture showing a continued slowdown in the sector.
“This can partly be attributed to a background of generally rising prices.
“Growth in the quantity of sporting equipment, games and toys being bought was offset by falling food sales when compared with the same month a year earlier.
“Sporting equipment sales have grown more than usual in January 2018, following an increased uptake for gym wear.”
The data had a minimal effect on sterling – dropping back by a tenth of a cent to just below $1.41.
Economists were quick to warn that lacklustre consumer spending – the major factor behind UK economic growth since the financial crash – risked knocking UK economic growth in the first quarter of the year.
Only last week, the Bank of England warned that the pace of growth was such that an earlier and sharper rate rise path was now likely to prevent the economy exceeding its current speed limit.
But Dr Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the EY ITEM Club, said the 0.4% rise in UK GDP he was now forecasting for January-March would not be enough to potentially deter the Bank raising rates this spring.
He said: “The squeeze on consumers remains appreciable at the start of 2018, but it should gradually but steadily ease as the year progresses due to inflation falling back and pay slowly trending up.
“Specifically, we believe inflation will fall back from 3% in January to close to 2% by the end of 2018 (largely due to the impact of sterling’s past sharp fall diminishing).
“Meanwhile, we expect earnings growth to trend up gradually as a consequence of recruitment difficulties in some sectors and higher inflation fuelling some increased pay awards.”