In the month of April, retail sales decreased 32.8% to $34.3 billion. Lower sales were recorded in 17 of the 19 commodity groupings. While certain retailers were deemed essential and allowed to continue in-store shopping, many Canadian retailers were forced to close their doors.

Non-essential products decline

The largest contribution to the monthly decline came from lower sales of motor vehicles (-66.8%). New motor vehicles decreased 65.5% and used motor vehicles were down 69.1%. Receipts for motor vehicle parts, supplies and accessories also fell 41.5% compared with the same month in 2019. As consumers put a priority on changing their winter tires, new motor vehicle tires declined 31.9%, while motor vehicle maintenance and repair services decreased 47.7%.

Gasoline prices fell 39.3% on a year-over-year basis in April, the largest year-over-year decline on record. With Canadians travelling less due to government-issued bans for non-essential travel and stay home orders, coupled with lower prices due to excess in global crude oil supply, sales of automotive fuels fell 56.8%.

Many store types were deemed non-essential and closed their storefront operations, resulting in lower sales of clothing (-78.0%) and footwear (-77.3%). The clothing and footwear component of the Consumer Price Index declined 5.9% on a monthly basis in April, the largest monthly decline in this component on record. As non-essential stores moved their sales online, large discounts to online prices were applied in an effort to offload leftover seasonal stock.

Consumer staples still in demand

As consumers stayed home and cooked for themselves, the category to post the largest sales increase was food (+13.2%). The biggest increase came from packaged food dry goods not elsewhere classified (+20.4%). Products in this category include canned goods, baking supplies, and other non-perishable goods. Higher sales in staples such as fresh meat and poultry (+22.2%), fresh fruit and vegetables (+12.0%) and eggs and dairy products (+19.1%) coincided with higher prices for these items in the month. Prices for eggs (+8.8%), margarine (+7.9%), pork (+9.0%) and beef (+8.5%) posted large year-over-year increases in April. Demand for meat remained high, while supply was hampered by temporary production cuts to protect workers during the pandemic and a slowdown in cross-border shipping.

Demand for household cleaning supplies, which includes products such as cleaning gloves and disinfectants, remained high with sales increasing 9.1% year over year in April.

Passing the time…

While many product categories were negatively impacted by COVID-19, the demand for certain products was higher than usual. Sales of exercise equipment increased 24.1% as Canadians looked for ways to get exercise and stay in shape. Similarly, sales of electronic game consoles increased 39.9% as lockdown measures pushed consumers to seek other avenues for home entertainment.

Sales of hardware, tools, renovation and lawn and garden products fell 15.8%, largely on the decline of receipts of renovation materials and supplies (-18.6%). As the weather improved and under stay home measures, consumers spent more time outside gardening and performing yard work as sales of live plants, seeds and other home and garden supplies increased 10.2%. Sales of outdoor furniture increased 38.5%.

Source: Statistics Canada