Retail Commodity Survey, March 2020
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.
For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).
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