Retail trade, April 2020
Retail sales were down by just over one-quarter (-26.4%) in April to $34.7 billion and have fallen by one-third (-33.6%) since physical distancing measures were implemented in mid-March. Motor vehicle and parts dealers took the largest hit in April, while online sales surged to a record high, representing 9.5% of the total retail market.
By way of comparison, retail sales (-17.1%) fell in the United States in April and like Canada, sales were down in all 11 comparable subsectors (see Note to readers).
While essential retailers such as supermarkets and other grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, gasoline stations and beer, wine and liquor stores remained open with reduced hours, most Canadian retailers did not offer in-store shopping in April. Nevertheless, many retailers started or expanded their online presence and curbside pick-up services in response to the closures.
Based on respondent feedback, approximately one-third of retailers were closed during April. The average length of shutdown was eight business days. In the clothing and clothing accessories stores subsector, 70.1% of retailers were closed in April for an average of 20 days. Despite these challenging times, many retailers reported their sales figures and Statistics Canada thanks them for their continued collaboration.
Sales were down in all 11 subsectors in April. Motor vehicle and parts dealers, food and beverage stores and gasoline stations were the main contributors to the decrease in April. Over the course of the month, motor vehicle and parts dealers and gasoline stations surpassed their record declines in March.
Retail sales in volume terms were down a record 25.2% in April, following an 8.2% decline in March, bringing total sales down by almost one-third (-31.3%) since the onset of the pandemic.
Given the rapidly evolving economic situation, Statistics Canada is providing an advance estimate of May sales. Early estimates suggest that retail sales increased by 19.1% in May. Owing to its preliminary nature, this figure should be expected to be revised.
Retail E-commerce sales continue to shine
The COVID-19 pandemic led many Canadian retailers to start or expand their e-commerce platforms in April in response to physical distancing measures and brick and mortar store closures.
On an unadjusted basis (that is, not seasonally adjusted) retail e-commerce sales accounted for a record high of 9.5% ($3.4 billion) of total retail trade in April. On a year-over-year basis, retail e-commerce more than doubled (+120.3%), while total unadjusted retail sales were down by close to one-third (-30.5%).
When adjusted for basic seasonal effects, retail e-commerce grew 56.0%.
Sales down in every subsector
Retail sales were down in every subsector for the first time in 27 years (May 1993), with many retailers deemed non-essential in March remaining closed throughout April.
Despite being deemed an essential service, the motor vehicle and parts dealers subsector (-44.3%) contributed the most to the sales decline in April, largely due to low consumer demand. Sales were down at all four store types within the subsector, led by new car dealers (-47.0%).
Sales at food and beverage stores (-12.7%) were down in April, returning close to levels seen pre-COVID-19. This was the only subsector with sales above its February level (+7.8%). Within the subsector, sales at convenience stores (+6.5%) increased, the only store type to do so.
Sales at the pump were down by nearly one-third (-32.2%), the largest decline on record, while the volume of gasoline sold decreased 18.9%. Crude oil prices continued to decline in April in the wake of the global economic slowdown, while Canadians drove less due to physical distancing measures.
Clothing and clothing accessories (-84.8%), sporting goods, hobby, book and music (-66.7%) and motor vehicle and parts dealers (-64.2%) stores reported the largest percentage declines from February to April.
Sales down in every province, led by Ontario and Quebec
Sales were down in every province for the second consecutive month in April, with both monthly declines largely attributable to the motor vehicle and parts dealers and food and beverage stores. The largest declines occurred in Ontario and Quebec—the provinces reporting the most COVID-19 cases in April.
Retail sales were down by almost one-third (-32.8%) in Ontario, following an 8.5% decrease in March. Sales in the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Toronto were down 35.6%.
Sales decreased by 27.8% in Quebec, led by the CMA of Montréal (-31.3%).
In British Columbia, sales were down by one-fifth (-20.7%) following a 3.7% decline in March. Sales in the CMA of Vancouver were down 23.9%.
Note to readers
All data in this release are seasonally adjusted and expressed in current dollars, unless otherwise noted.
Seasonally adjusted data are data that have been modified to eliminate the effect of seasonal and calendar influences to allow for more meaningful comparisons of economic conditions from period to period. For more information on seasonal adjustment, see Seasonally adjusted data – Frequently asked questions.
Trend-cycle estimates are included in selected charts as a complement to the seasonally adjusted series. These data represent a smoothed version of the seasonally adjusted time series and provide information on longer-term movements including changes in direction underlying the series. For information on trend-cycle data, see Trend-cycle estimates – Frequently asked questions.
Both seasonally adjusted data and trend-cycle estimates are subject to revision as additional observations become available. These revisions could be large and could even lead to a reversal of movement, especially for reference months near the end of the series or during periods of economic disruptions.
For information regarding cannabis statistics, consult the Cannabis Stats Hub.
Seasonally adjusted estimates for cannabis store retailers are presented in unadjusted form as there is no seasonal pattern established by official statistics yet. Establishing such a pattern requires several months of observed data. In the interim, the seasonally adjusted estimates for cannabis store retailers will be identical to the unadjusted figures.
Statistics Canada's retail e-commerce figures include the electronic sales of two distinct types of retailers. The first type do not have a storefront. These businesses are commonly referred to as pure-play Internet retailers and are classified to North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) 45411—Electronic Shopping and Mail Order Houses. The second type have a storefront and are commonly referred to as brick-and-mortar retailers. If the online operations of a brick-and-mortar retailer are separately managed, they too are classified to NAICS 45411.
Some common electronic commerce transactions, such as travel and accommodation bookings, ticket purchases, and financial transactions, are not included in Canadian retail sales figures.
For more information on retail e-commerce in Canada, see "Retail E-Commerce in Canada."
Total retail sales expressed in volume terms are calculated by deflating current dollar values using consumer price indexes. The retail sales series in chained (2012) dollars is a chained Fisher volume index with 2012 as the reference year.
Real-time tables 20-10-0054-01 and 20-10-0079-01 will be updated soon.
Data on retail trade for May will be released on July 21.
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).