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Retail Commodity Survey, February 2021

Released: 2021-05-07

In the month of February, retail sales increased 2.2% to $43.9 billion. Higher sales were reported in 10 of the 19 product categories.

Looking ahead to March, the advance estimate provided by the Monthly Retail Trade Survey suggests that unadjusted total retail sales increased by 25.3%. Owing to its preliminary nature, this figure will be revised.

Food and beverage sales continue to soar amid pandemic

The largest increase in dollar terms came from food, which posted year-over-year growth of 8.7% in the month of February. This marked the third consecutive month that food sales led all growth in the sector, as restrictions related to the pandemic continued to drive customers to retail. The largest contributors to the gain were fresh fruit and vegetables (+9.9%) and packaged food dry goods, not elsewhere classified (+8.4%). The only food category to post a decline was perishable prepared foods, down 3.0%. Sales of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages also posted a 3.8% gain compared with the previous year, on the strength of a 3.4% increase in sales of alcoholic beverages.

Home renovation, appliances and electronics

As prices and demand remained high for building supplies amid the pandemic, hardware, tools, renovation and lawn and garden products continued to experience strong sales growth, increasing 28.1% in February. The majority of the growth within the product category came from renovation material and supplies (+26.0%), led by higher sales of lumber and other renovation materials and supplies (+44.0%).

Home appliances saw their 10th consecutive year-over-year increase (+30.9%), driven primarily by higher sales of major home appliances (+36.4%). Home electronics sales grew 7.3%, largely because of computer, peripherals, and networking equipment, which rose 22.4% over the same month in the previous year.

Discretionary spending continues to dwindle

The largest decline in sales in the retail sector came from clothing (-28.9%), which posted its 12th consecutive decline on a year-over-year basis. All clothing product categories posted negative sales growth, excluding infant clothing, fabric and accessories, which recorded a 1.5% gain in the month. Sales of footwear continued to decline, with sales falling 25.0% in the month. The majority of the decrease came from women's footwear (-36.9%).

Despite higher prices compared with the previous year for gasoline, automotive fuels declined 11.2%, stemming from lower demand at the pumps.

For the second month in a row, retail sales of motor vehicles (-2.8%) posted a year-over-year decline. Lower sales were seen in both products within the category, with used motor vehicles (-3.9%) and new motor vehicles (-2.2%) declining in February. New minivans, sport utility vehicles and light trucks remained nearly unchanged (-0.2%), while the trend away from purchasing new passenger automobiles continued, leading to a further decline of 11.5% for the product category.

  Note to readers

The Retail Commodity Survey collects national-level retail sales data by commodity, from the same businesses surveyed in the Monthly Retail Trade Survey. No data have been seasonally adjusted. All percentage changes are year over year.

New retail commodity data for e-commerce now available!

Estimates from the Retail Commodity Survey are now available for the electronic shopping and mail-order houses industry (North American Industry Classification System [NAICS] code 454110).

E-commerce figures of brick-and-mortar retailers are included with the commodity sales of the retailer. If the online operations of a brick-and-mortar retailer are separately managed, they are classified to NAICS code 45411, electronic shopping and mail-order houses. Businesses that are commonly referred to as pure-play Internet retailers are also classified to NAICS code 45411. Total retail sales figures do not include sales from retailers that are classified to NAICS code 45411.

New Quarterly Retail Commodity Survey data visualization tool

Check out the latest Quarterly Retail Commodity Survey estimates in a new interactive way. The new Retail Commodity Survey Data Visualization Tool allows users to view, customize and interpret quarterly sales data more easily.

Contact information

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