The Office for National Statistics said retail sales volumes dipped 0.8 per cent on the month to give an annual rise of one per cent - both well below economists' forecasts.
The monthly drop was driven by the biggest decline in sales of the "other stores" category since January 2010, with a sharp drop in sales of fine art and antiques leading the decline.
January's sales volume growth figures were revised down to 0.3 percent from 0.9 percent on the month, with the ONS blaming late data from smaller stores which failed to maintain their previous track of strong growth.
These figures are likely to revive concerns about the health of consumers after major retailers had generally reported reasonable results in recent days.
On Thursday home improvements group Kingfisher and fashion chain Next reported rising profits, suggesting conditions could be starting to improve for retailers after a prolonged squeeze on consumers' disposable incomes.
By contrast, video games retailer Game called in administrators on Wednesday, shortly after declaring its shares worthless.