retail sales

Canada just broke a record for monthly retail sales but it's not a good one

Canada just experienced its largest drop in monthly retail sales on record, with sales plunging by 10 per cent to $47.1 billion in March as a result of the pandemic.

According to Statistics Canada, about 40 per cent of retailers shut down operations mid-month, prompting Canadians to spend less time in stores — and less money purchasing new goods.

Quebec and Alberta were the hardest-hit provinces, reporting a decline in retail sales of 15.7 per cent and 13.0 per cent, respectively.

retail sales

Statistics Canada | Retail sales decrease in March

Motor vehicle and parts dealers, gasoline stations, clothing and clothing accessories stores led the March decrease.

Most retailers shut down for an average of five business days in March, although more than 90 per cent of clothing and accessory retailers say that they shut down for about 13 days.

retail sales

Statistics Canada | Canadian retailers that experienced shutdowns in March

The United States also took a financial hit in March, with retail sales plunging by  7.1 per cent. Like Canada, the motor vehicle and parts dealers and clothing stores particularly suffered the economic consequences of the lockdown.

And the worst may be yet to come; Statistics Canada warns that early results for April indicate that retail sales could have decreased by a staggering 15.6 per cent.

It's not all bad news, however; grocery stores reported a surge in sales, with food and beverage sales soaring by 22.8 per cent — undoubtedly linked to many Canadians rushing to the store to buy hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Canadian retailers also reported an uptick in retail e-commerce sales, experiencing a pattern that is normally observed at the start of the annual holiday shopping period.

When adjusted for basic seasonal effects, Statistics Canada says that retail e-commerce grew by 16.3 per cent, indicating a shift to online shopping while stores remained closed.

Fortunately, many businesses in Canada have been able to reopen as more provinces emerge from lockdown, with close to half of businesses in Alberta now fully open for business once more.

Lead photo by

Sean Marshall


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