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Retail Commodity Survey, March 2020

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Released: 2020-06-12

In March, retail sales decreased 10.9%, to $43.4 billion. Lower sales were reported in 12 of the 19 product categories. Retailers and consumers experienced the economic effects of COVID-19, including the effects of physical distancing and self-isolation regulations.

Physical distancing measures

The largest contributor to the monthly decline came from lower sales of motor vehicles (-34.9%). As consumers avoided non-essential commerce because of physical distancing restrictions, lower sales of both new (-35.3%) and used (-34.2%) vehicles were recorded. Sales of motor vehicle parts, supplies and accessories (-21.9%) also fell.

Sales of automotive and household fuels fell 26.5% in March compared with the previous year. With Canadians travelling less because of stay-at-home orders, and with lower prices because of the excess in global crude oil supply, sales of automotive fuels fell 26.6%

Many store types were deemed non-essential and closed their storefront operations. Subsequently, lower sales were also posted in the clothing (-46.4%) and footwear (-48.2%) categories.

Essential products still in demand

As consumers stayed home and cooked for themselves, the category to post the largest sales increase was food (+19.5%). While typical staples such as fresh meat (+21.6%), fresh fruit and vegetables (+11.2%), and dairy products (+16.0%) posted large increases, the biggest increase came from packaged food dry goods not elsewhere classified (+39.3%). Products in this category include canned goods, baking supplies and other non-perishable goods.

Sales of beverages also rose 8.6%, largely on the strength of higher alcohol sales (+10.4%). Sales of soft drinks (+4.2%) and non-alcoholic beverages (+4.4%) also increased.

Sales of cannabis products were up 197.1% from the same period a year earlier. The majority of sales continue to come from dried cannabis flowering tops (+161.5%). In March, sales of cannabis extracts and cannabis-infused edibles reached $17.7 million and $5.9 million, respectively.


While sales in many product categories were down because of COVID-19, certain products experienced higher-than-usual demand. Sales of housewares increased 22.9%, primarily from higher sales of miscellaneous household supplies not elsewhere classified (+41.8%), which include batteries, facial tissue, paper towels and toilet paper.

Sales of infant care, personal and beauty products increased 0.4%. The high demand for certain personal care items led to higher sales of toiletries (+11.6%) and personal care supplies and equipment not elsewhere classified (+28.4%). These gains were largely offset by lower sales of cosmetics and fragrances (-20.7%).

  Note to readers

Beginning with February 2020, unadjusted monthly data were revised back to January 2019. These revisions take into account late reporting and corrected respondent information.

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