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Retail trade, May 2021

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Released: 2021-07-23

Retail sales — Canada

$53.8 billion

May 2021

-2.1% decrease

(monthly change)

Retail sales — N.L.

$842.6 millions

May 2021

-2.7% decrease

(monthly change)

Retail sales — P.E.I.

$246.4 millions

May 2021

-2.9% decrease

(monthly change)

Retail sales — N.S.

$1,351.3 millions

May 2021

-12.5% decrease

(monthly change)

Retail sales — N.B.

$1,268.2 millions

May 2021

-1.5% decrease

(monthly change)

Retail sales — Que.

$12,288.6 millions

May 2021

-2.5% decrease

(monthly change)

Retail sales — Ont.

$18,352.0 millions

May 2021

-2.1% decrease

(monthly change)

Retail sales — Man.

$1,957.2 millions

May 2021

0.3% increase

(monthly change)

Retail sales — Sask.

$1,809.0 millions

May 2021

1.7% increase

(monthly change)

Retail sales — Alta.

$7,278.2 millions

May 2021

-1.6% decrease

(monthly change)

Retail sales — B.C.

$8,187.3 millions

May 2021

-1.4% decrease

(monthly change)

Retail sales — Y.T.

$80.5 millions

May 2021

0.9% increase

(monthly change)

Retail sales — N.W.T.

$74.5 millions

May 2021

-8.8% decrease

(monthly change)

Retail sales — Nvt.

$45.7 millions

May 2021

-0.9% decrease

(monthly change)

Retail sales declined 2.1% to $53.8 billion in May. The largest declines occurred at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers (-11.3%) and motor vehicle and parts dealers (-2.4%). During the month of May, many retailers continued to face closures due to the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sales decreased in 8 of 11 subsectors, representing 65.6% of retail trade.

Core retail sales—which exclude gasoline stations and motor vehicle and parts dealers—decreased 2.4%.

In volume terms, retail sales decreased 2.7% in May.

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. In light of continuing restrictions, both retailers and consumers have adapted to these business conditions.

Based on respondent feedback, 5.6% of retailers were closed at some point in May, compared with approximately 5.0% of retailers being closed the month prior. The average length of the shutdown was one day in both May and April.

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 4.4% in June. Owing to its preliminary nature, this figure will be revised. This unofficial estimate was calculated based on responses received from 59.9% of companies surveyed. The average final response rate for the survey over the previous 12 months has been 90.5%.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Retail sales decrease in May
Retail sales decrease in May

Retail sales continue to fall as non-essential retailers remain closed

The largest decline in retail sales occurred at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers, down 11.3% in May. Sales decreased for the second consecutive month and retreated 19.3% from the record high reached in March. In May, 4.8% of building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers were closed for at least one day, compared with 1.3% in March.

Sales fell by 2.4% at motor vehicle and parts dealers. Sales were down in all four subsectors, led by new car dealers (-2.5%) and automotive parts, accessories and tire stores (-4.3%). The New Motor Vehicle Sales Survey noted that unit sales of passenger cars and trucks were 30.8% higher in May compared with the same month a year earlier. Compared with May 2019, unit sales of passenger cars and trucks were down 27.1% in May.

Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores fell 11.2%. In May, 23.5% of clothing and clothing accessories stores were closed for an average of six days. All three store types posted declines, with clothing stores (-11.6%) decreasing the most. Sales at this store type fell to their lowest level since May 2020.

Sales rise at food and beverage stores and gasoline stations

Receipts rose 0.8% at food and beverage stores. The increase was due to higher sales at supermarkets and other grocery stores (+1.0%) and beer, wine and liquor stores (+0.8%).

Sales at gasoline stations (+0.9%) increased for the fourth time in the last five months. Gasoline prices rose in May, largely due to supply disruptions to pipelines in the United States and production cuts by international oil producers. In volume terms, sales at gasoline stations were relatively unchanged (-0.1%).

Chart 2  Chart 2: Sales decrease in 8 of 11 subsectors
Sales decrease in 8 of 11 subsectors

Sales down in eight provinces

In Ontario, sales fell 2.1%. This was the fourth decline in the last six months. The decrease in sales was largest at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers. Sales were down by 2.5% in the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Toronto.

Quebec (-2.5%) posted the second-largest provincial decline. In the Montréal CMA, sales fell 3.5%, the first decline in four months.

Saskatchewan (+1.7%) and Manitoba (+0.3%) were the only provinces where retail sales increased in May. In both provinces, the sales growth was led by higher sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers. This was the fifth consecutive sales increase in Saskatchewan.

Retail e-commerce in Canada

On a seasonally adjusted basis, retail e-commerce sales rose 2.1% in May.

On an unadjusted basis, retail e-commerce sales were up 3.7% year over year to $4.2 billion in May, accounting for 7.0% of total retail trade. The share of e-commerce sales out of total retail sales was unchanged in May compared with April.

  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 under 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

Real-time tables 20-10-0054-01 and 20-10-0079-01 will be updated soon.

Next release

Data on retail trade for June will be released on August 20.

Contact information

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; or Media Relations (613-951-4636;

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