Retail sales rose less than expected in January as consumers cut back on car purchases and did less online shopping.

Total retail sales increased 0.4 percent after being flat in December, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales climbing 0.7 percent last month.

The government had initially estimated that sales rose 0.1 percent in December, and on Tuesday it also revised downward its reading for retail sales in November. The revisions suggest consumers did not spend as much as previously thought during the holiday shopping season.

Sales of cars and autoparts dropped 1.1 percent, while shopping at nonstore retailers, a category dominated by online sales, also fell 1.1 percent, the biggest decline since March 2009.

Fueling the overall increase in retail sales during January, spending at gasoline stations rose 1.4 percent - the biggest gain since March 2011 - while receipts for electronics increased 0.5 percent.

Excluding autos, retail sales advanced 0.7 percent, exceeding analysts' expectations of a 0.5 percent increase.

Core retail sales, which exclude autos, gasoline and building materials, climbed 0.7 percent in January.

Core sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of the government's gross domestic product report.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

(This story corrects seventh paragraph to show retail sales ex autos gain exceeded analyst expectations)