UK retail sales fell by 1.8 per cent between December and January – the biggest drop in 18 months – according to official figures.
The reduction in sales volumes in the month after the Christmas period plunged three times faster than analysts had forecast.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) report said unusually heavy snow at the start of the month pushed down sales of household goods and petrol.
Petrol was included in the retail figures for the first time and its sales went down by 11 per cent as the snow kept drivers off the roads.
Food sales went down around 2 per cent while clothing sales rose slightly as shoppers snapped up winter clothing.
Overall sales by value were up 0.9 per cent from January 2009.
Richard Lowe, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays said: "The drop in retail sales in January comes as no surprise as consumers reined in spending after Christmas.
"However, the magnitude was far greater than commentators expected.
"Treacherous weather conditions deterred shoppers from the high street for part of January, although the official data suggest that even internet retailers could not escape the Christmas hangover.
"In contrast, retailers of clothing saw sales volumes surge, as prices fell and appetite remained strong for winter lines."