Retail trade, January 2021
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. Clothing and clothing accessories stores (-17.8%) led the decline, down for a fourth consecutive month.
Furniture and home furnishings stores (-15.1%) posted declines in January after decreasing by 7.1% in December.
Sales were also down at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores (-16.8%).
Sales at food and beverage stores were flat in January (+0.1%), driven by lower sales at supermarkets and other grocery stores (-1.9%). The decline in supermarkets and other grocery stores followed gains in November and December, when more Canadians hosted their own holiday dinners following pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings.
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 at motor vehicle and parts dealers decline for a third straight month, while gasoline stations record another gain
Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers contracted by 1.0% in January—their third consecutive decline. The decrease was mostly due to lower sales at other motor vehicle dealers (-13.5%) and used car dealers (-6.5%). By contrast, new car dealers (+1.2%) posted their first gain in four months.
Sales at gasoline stations increased for the second month in a row, rising 0.9% in January. Growth was largely the result of higher gasoline prices, which were up on a month-over-month basis. In volume terms, sales at gasoline stations were down 1.2%.
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.
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.
The percentage change for the advance estimate of retail sales is calculated using seasonally adjusted data and is expressed in current dollars.
This early indicator is a special product being provided in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to offer Canadians timely information on the retail sector. The data sources and methodology used are the exact same as those outlined in the Monthly Retail Trade Survey information page.
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 disruption.
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 does 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) code 45411—electronic shopping and mail-order houses. The second type has a storefront and is commonly referred to as a brick-and-mortar retailer. If the online operations of a brick-and-mortar retailer are separately managed, they too are classified to NAICS code 45411.
Some common e-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.
Real-time tables 20-10-0054-01 and 20-10-0079-01 will be updated soon.
Data on retail trade for February will be released on April 28.
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).