Issue 20-66: Retail Sales

April 21, 2020

Retail sales in British Columbia (seasonally adjusted) grew in February by 1.2% compared to January. The increase was led by higher sales at general merchandise stores and building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers.

Nationally, retail activity grew by 0.3% in February, mainly due to continued strength in sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers (+1.1%) and higher sales in general merchandise stores (+1.4%).

Around one quarter of retailers reported that their business activities had been affected by rail blockades, COVID-19 or both in February. Less than 0.5% of retailers were closed for any length of time in February. Approximately 12% of businesses were negatively affected by the blockades and COVID-19, with slower customer traffic in stores and product transportation disruptions. However, 1.6% of businesses saw positive impacts from these events. Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores, building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers and health and personal care stores were more likely to see higher sales due to the pandemic and blockades. Meanwhile, 8.7% of retailers reported impacts from COVID-19 only, while 5.2% reported that their activities had been affected by the rail blockades. Note that it is difficult for businesses to differentiate the effects from concurrent events as well as changes to demand not related to the pandemic or rail blockades, so impacts must be interpreted with caution.

Retail sales were up in five provinces in February, with British Columbia (+1.2%) and Newfoundland and Labrador (+0.9%) reporting the largest gains in the month among provinces.

Montreal (+1.4%), Toronto (+1.5%) and Vancouver (+1.9%) all saw increases in retail sales in February compared to January. Note that these three census metropolitan areas represent nearly one third of all retail sales in Canada and are the only ones reported separately.

Retail e-commerce continues to grow faster than overall retail sales. Retail e‑commerce was up 17.8% (unadjusted) from the previous year in February, compared to 6.5% growth of all (unadjusted) retail sales. E‑commerce sales will likely see a boost beginning in March as retailers open and expand e‑commerce platforms as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: Statistics Canada