Retail trade, February 2021
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Retail sales were up 4.8% to $55.1 billion in February. Sales increased in 9 of 11 subsectors, led by higher sales at motor-vehicle and parts dealers and gasoline stations.
Core retail sales—which exclude gasoline stations and motor-vehicle and parts dealers—rose for the first time in three months, increasing 3.8% in February on higher sales at general merchandise stores and at clothing and clothing accessories stores.
In volume terms, retail sales increased 4.3% in February.
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, provincial governments continued to enact public-health measures in several regions across the country that directly affected the retail sector. Based on respondent feedback, approximately 12% of retailers were closed during February. The average length of the shutdown was two business days. Despite these challenging times, most respondents reported their sales figures, and Statistics Canada thanks them for their continued cooperation.
Given the rapidly evolving economic situation, Statistics Canada is providing an advance estimate of retail sales, which suggests that sales increased 2.3% in March. Owing to its preliminary nature, this figure will be revised.
This unofficial estimate was calculated based on responses received from 65% of companies surveyed. The average final response rate for the survey over the previous 12 months has been 90.4%.
Sales at motor-vehicle and parts dealers and gasoline stations post consecutive gains
Sales at motor-vehicle and parts dealers increased for the second consecutive month, rising 5.0% in February. The increase was mostly because of higher sales at new car dealers (+5.6%) and automotive parts, accessories and tire stores (+9.2%), some of which were closed in January as a result of lockdowns in select regions. In contrast, sales at other motor vehicle dealers contracted 2.3% in February.
Sales at gasoline stations also increased for the second month in a row, rising 12.3% in February—their largest increase since June 2020. Contributing to the increase were higher gasoline prices, which were up on a month-over-month basis. In volume terms, sales at gasoline stations rose 6.8% following four consecutive declines.
Core retail sales up on higher sales at general merchandise stores and non-essential retailers
After two consecutive months of declines, core retail sales increased 3.8% in February, led by higher sales at general merchandise stores (+6.1%).
Clothing and clothing accessories stores also contributed to the increase in core retail, rising 23.7% in February—its first gain since September 2020. Sales were up in all three subcategories, coinciding with the easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions on non-essential retailers and malls in many parts of the country. In February, approximately 39% of clothing and clothing accessories stores reported having been closed for an average of 6 days, compared with 48% of those retailers who reported closures for an average of 13 days in January.
On the heels of two consecutive declines, sales increased at furniture and home furnishings stores (+18.0%) and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores (+23.5%) in February.
In contrast, sales at food and beverage stores were down 1.4% in February. The decrease was mostly driven by lower sales at specialty food stores (-12.7%).
Sales up in six provinces
Sales were up in six provinces in February, with Quebec and Ontario leading the gain.
In Quebec, sales rose by almost one-fifth in February (+19.0%)—their largest increase since June 2020. Motor-vehicle and parts dealers in the province reported higher sales, leading the gain amid the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in February. In the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Montréal, sales were up 20.4%.
In Ontario, sales rose 2.3% on increased sales at gasoline stations and at clothing and clothing accessories stores. Sales fell 1.9% in the CMA of Toronto, coinciding with the continuation of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in the region.
Retail e-commerce in Canada
On an unadjusted basis, retail e-commerce sales were up 92.0% year over year to $3.1 billion in February, accounting for 6.8% of total retail trade. The share of e-commerce out of total retail sales was 1.3 percentage points lower in February, as more brick-and-mortar stores were allowed to open their doors to in-person shopping.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, retail e-commerce fell 5.7% in February.
Note to readers
With this release, unadjusted monthly data were revised back to January 2020, while seasonally adjusted data (including retail e-commerce) were revised back to January 2017. Factors influencing revisions include the late receipt of respondent information, the correction of information in the data provided, the replacement of estimated figures with actual values (once available), the re-classification of companies within, into, and out of the retail trade sector, and updates to seasonal factors.
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 exactly the 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 extensive and could even lead to a reversal of movement, especially for the reference months near the end of the series or during periods of economic disruption.
Seasonally adjusted estimates for cannabis-store retailers are presented in unadjusted form since 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 the 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 March will be released on May 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).