Retail trade, March 2021
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Retail sales were up 3.6% to $57.6 billion in March, led by higher sales at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers, and clothing and clothing accessories stores. Sales at food and beverage stores declined.
Sales increased in 10 of 11 subsectors, representing 79.1% of retail trade.
Core retail sales—which exclude sales at gasoline stations, and motor vehicle and parts dealers—rose 4.7%.
In volume terms, retail sales increased 3.2% in March.
Retail sales were up 1.8% in the first quarter—the third consecutive quarterly increase. In volume terms, quarterly sales were up 0.5%.
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, provincial governments continued to enact public health measures in several regions across the country, which directly affected the retail sector.
Based on respondent feedback, 2.1% of retailers were closed at some point in March. The average length of the closure was less than one day. This represented a widespread reopening of the economy between the second and third waves of the pandemic. In February, 12.0% of retailers were closed for an average of two 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 declined 5.1% in April. Owing to its preliminary nature, this figure will be revised. This unofficial estimate was calculated based on responses received from 46% of companies surveyed. The average final response rate for the survey over the previous 12 months has been 90.7%.
Core retail sales rise as stores reopen
Core retail sales rose for the second consecutive month, up 4.7% in March on higher sales at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers (+19.8%). This was the largest increase since May 2020 and coincided with warmer-than-typical March weather and the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in some areas of the country.
Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores rose for the second straight month, up 23.6% in March, to their highest level since the beginning of the pandemic. The increase in March is attributable to higher sales at clothing stores (+25.0%) and shoe stores (+42.8%). Sales at jewellery, luggage and leather goods stores edged down 0.1%. In March, 5.1% of clothing and clothing accessories stores were closed for an average of one day; in February, 38.8% were closed for an average of six days.
The lone decline in March was at food and beverage stores (-1.3%), where sales decreased for the third time in four months on lower sales at supermarkets and other grocery stores (-1.6%) and specialty food stores (-12.0%). These declines were partially offset by higher sales at beer, wine and liquor stores (+3.1%).
Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers and gasoline stations rise for the third consecutive month
Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers increased for the third consecutive month, up 1.4% in March. The growth is mostly attributable to higher sales at other motor vehicle dealers (+11.8%) and new car dealers (+0.7%).
Sales at gasoline stations also increased for the third month in a row, rising 1.8% in March on higher gasoline prices. In volume terms, sales at gasoline stations declined 0.8%.
Sales up in six provinces
Sales were up in six provinces in March, with Ontario accounting for the majority of the increase.
In Ontario, sales rose 9.0% on higher sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores, and building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers. This was the largest monthly increase in Ontario since June 2020, when sales were up 32.3%. Sales rose 6.8% in the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Toronto, coinciding with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
Quebec (+2.2%) posted the second-largest provincial increase, on higher sales at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers, and general merchandise stores. In the CMA of Montréal, sales were up 4.1%.
Retail e-commerce in Canada
On an unadjusted basis, retail e-commerce sales were up 58.5% year over year to $3.7 billion in March, accounting for 6.3% of total retail trade. The share of e-commerce sales out of total retail sales fell 0.7 percentage points in March 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 1.5% in March.
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 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 April will be released on June 23.
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).