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Retail Commodity Survey, April 2021

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Released: 2021-07-08

Retail sales reached $54.6 billion in April, an increase of 58.7% compared to the same month a year prior. This marked the largest increase on record for the sector, largely attributable to the sharp declines seen at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. Higher sales were reported in 18 of the 19 commodity categories.

Looking ahead to May, the advance estimate provided by the Monthly Retail Trade Survey suggests that unadjusted total retail sales increased by 19.8%. Because of its preliminary nature, this figure will be revised.

Automotive sales drive retail growth

For the second consecutive month, sales of motor vehicles led all gains in the sector, with a record increase of 211.7% in the month of April. As sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers slowed amid the third wave of COVID-19, increases in automotive sales were primarily attributable to the sharp declines seen at the onset of the pandemic—motor vehicles experienced their lowest sales in April 2020. Growth in the product category was driven largely by increasing sales of new motor vehicles (+201.5%), as new minivans, sport utility vehicles and light trucks (+201.4%), new passenger automobiles (+201.9%), and new medium and heavy trucks (+169.7%) all increased for the second consecutive month. Used automobiles also saw strong sales on a year-over-year basis, increasing 230.8% in the month.

Automotive fuel sales experienced their largest year-over-year increase on record in the month of April, up 116.1% from the same month a year prior. These gains were largely attributable to surging prices at the pump, which increased a record 62.5% from April 2020. This marked the second consecutive month of higher sales for this product category.

Sales of food remain strong amid third-wave restrictions

As restrictions related to the third wave of the pandemic were implemented across many provinces in April, sales of food (+0.8%) were once again buoyed by limited options for dining out. April marked the first month in which year-over-year changes in sales of food under full COVID-19 restrictions could be observed. Shifts in Canadians' food preferences could be seen, with fresh food (+1.6%) leading all increases in the category in 2021. The effects of stockpiling in 2020 could still be seen in April 2021, with non-perishable food options, such as packaged food dry goods not elsewhere classified (-4.2%) and frozen food (-0.2%), falling when compared with the same month a year prior.

There's no place like home

With travel restrictions still in place and an early dose of spring weather across much of the country, retailers saw higher sales of recreational vehicles (+219.8%) in April. Soaring sales were also noted for new recreational boats and other new recreational vehicles not elsewhere classified (+259.3%), as well as for new motor homes, travel trailers and truck campers (+274.1%).

Canadians also continued to spend on products to be enjoyed around the house, with home hardware categories leading the growth. These categories include renovation materials and supplies (+81.0%), and home lawn and garden equipment and supplies (+106.1%). Home appliances (+56.6%), home electronics (+26.5%) and outdoor home furniture (+97.8%) also posted strong sales in the month.

E-commerce and other sales methods on the rise

Restrictions and closures related to the second wave of the pandemic in the first quarter of 2021 bolstered alternative methods of shopping, with sales at electronic shopping and mail-order houses reaching an all-time high of $6.8 billion. Sales at electronic shopping and mail-order houses accounted for 4.5% of all retail spending in the first quarter of 2021, up 1.4% from a year prior.

  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.

With this month's release, data for the monthly and quarterly tables were revised back to January 2020 and 2020 Q1 respectively. These revisions take into account late reporting and corrected respondent information.

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