Retail sales fell for the second consecutive month, down 1.1% to $52.5 billion in January. Sales declined in 6 of 11 subsectors, representing 39.4% of retail sales. Core retail sales—which exclude gasoline stations and motor vehicle and parts dealers—also posted their second consecutive decline, falling 1.4% in January because of lower sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores. In terms of volume, retail sales fell 1.6% in January.

With the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Canada, provincial governments began to reintroduce physical distancing measures, which directly affected the retail sector. Based on respondent feedback, approximately 14% of retailers were closed at some point in January for an average of three business days. Despite these challenging times, most respondents reported their sales figures, and Statistics Canada thanks them for their continued collaboration.

Given the rapidly evolving economic situation, Statistics Canada is providing an advance estimate of retail sales, which suggests that sales increased by 4.0% in February. Owing to its preliminary nature, this figure will be revised.

This unofficial estimate was calculated based on responses received from 58% of companies surveyed. The average final response rate for the survey over the previous 12 months has been 86.5%.

Core retail sales decline because of lower activity at non-essential retailers

Core retail sales fell for the second month in a row, down 1.4% in January because of lower sales at non-essential retailers, which were mandated to close their brick and mortar stores to in-person shopping in many regions across the country.

Sales at general merchandise stores—many of which are considered essential—increased by 3.3% in January after falling in December. Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers also posted gains (+2.9%) in January, following a decrease in December.

Sales down in two provinces

Sales declined in two provinces in January: Quebec and Ontario.

In Quebec, sales posted their largest decrease since April 2020, down 9.8% in January. Stricter lockdown measures, including new restrictions on non-essential retailers and non-essential goods, were implemented in January. The introduction of a curfew also reduced operating hours for some essential retailers.

Motor vehicle and parts dealers in the province reported lower sales, as lockdown measures limited in-person sales of new cars, while repairs and maintenance were still permitted. General merchandise stores, which were considered essential, also posted lower sales, as they were prohibited from selling non-essential goods. In the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Montréal, sales were down 11.8%.

In Ontario, sales decreased by 2.6% on lower activity at clothing and clothing accessories stores. Much of the province was under lockdown restrictions in January, which included the closure of non-essential retailers to in-person shopping, while physical distancing measures were in place at essential retailers. In the CMA of Toronto, sales were down 0.2%.

Retail e-commerce in Canada

On an unadjusted basis, retail e-commerce sales were up 110.7% year over year to $3.5 billion in January, accounting for 7.8% of total retail trade. The continued rise in e-commerce sales coincided with an increase in store closures in January. On a seasonally adjusted basis, retail e-commerce rose 15.0% in January.

Source: Statistics Canada