British retail sales rose by 0.9 percent in January after gaining 0.6 percent in December, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday, lifting prospects for first-quarter economic growth.
Analysts' consensus forecast had been for a fall of 0.4 percent, according to a survey by Dow Jones Newswires.
The ONS added in a statement that retail sales jumped by 2.0 percent in January compared with the level in the same month in 2011, boosted by clothing and heavy discounting.
"This is a major surprise, and a very pleasant one," said IHS Global Insight economist Howard Archer.
"Given the key role of consumer spending, the unexpected and impressive 0.9-percent jump in retail sales volumes in January is a massive boost to hopes that the economy has returned to growth," he added.
The British economy contracted by 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 and would return to recession with another contraction in the current first quarter of 2012. First-quarter gross domestic product figures are due in April.