Sales for the month came out 0.1 percent ahead of December at $416.6 billion. Sales, however, were 4.4 percent higher than January 2012, the bureau said.
The prominent trade association, the National Retail Federation, came up with different figures. The NRF said sales rose 0.3 percent from December, excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants.
From a year earlier, the NRF said, sales rose 5.4 percent.
"Consumers are continuing to hold back on spending just as our economy is held back by political brinksmanship in D.C.," said the president of the NRF Matthew Shay in a statement.
The Census Bureau said month-to-month sales growth from non-store sources outpaced brick and mortar stores considerably. Non-store retailers, which include catalog and Internet sales, rose 15.7 percent from January 2012, the monthly report said.
Automobile sales also held up, climbing 9.4 percent in January compared to the same month of 2012.
From a year earlier, sporting goods, hobby and book sales rose 7 percent, while food and beverage sales increased 2.8 percent. At grocery stores, sales rose 2.9 percent from January 2012.
A few categories saw declining sales. Healthcare and personal care store sales dropped 0.9 percent from January 2012 to January 2013. Department store sales were down 0.6 percent in the same period. General merchandise sales dropped 1 percent January to January.