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    Retail and wholesale trade

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    Sales in the retail and wholesale industries recovered in 2010 after the 2008–2009 recession caused them to fall for the first time in nearly two decades.

    Retail rebounds

    From 2009 to 2010, retail sales increased by 5.5% to reach $438.4 billion. Ten of eleven retail subsectors recorded sales growth. One of these subsectors was gasoline stations, which experienced a 15.5% increase in sales. This increase reflected a rise in price and volume. Motor vehicle and parts dealers had a 7.9% increase in sales, while sales at general merchandisers, including department stores, grew by 4.7%. All provinces experienced higher retail sales in 2010. Quebec saw the largest growth at 6.3%.

    Out of 10 top-level categories of commodities, the largest was food and beverages with $103.3 billion in sales. Motor vehicles, parts, service and rental followed with $88.6 billion. Automotive fuels, oils and additives ($43.3 billion), health and personal care products ($40.0 billion), and furniture, home furnishings and electronics ($38.8 billion) rounded out the top categories in sales.

    At 15.9%, automotive fuels, oils and additives posted the largest annual increase in sales for 2010, followed by motor vehicles, parts, service and rental (10.2%) and clothing, footwear and accessories (7.1%), all above the average overall annual change. Food and beverages, hardware, lawn and garden products, housewares (non-electric) and household supplies, furniture, home furnishings and electronics, and health and personal care products all posted single-digit growth. Sporting and leisure goods (-3.6%) and all other goods and services (-4.7%) were the two categories that showed a decline in sales from 2009 to 2010.

    Wholesale recovers

    In 2010, wholesale sales bounced back after losses during the 2008–2009 recession. Wholesale sales rose 8.1% in 2010 to more than $537.1 billion. All seven subsectors of the wholesale trade industry saw higher sales in 2010. The largest gain was in the motor vehicle and parts subsector, whose sales rose 18.7% from the previous year to $90.0 billion. Next were farm product wholesaler-distributors, whose sales rose 12.8% to $6.5 billion. Sales in the building materials and supplies subsector increased by 10.5% to $73.9 billion. As well, all provinces and territories saw greater wholesale sales in 2010.

    Inventories are under control

    Unlike in previous recessions, inventory levels in retail and wholesale did not play a major role in the 2008–2009 recession. Retailers and wholesalers were better able to predict and control inventory levels using management techniques and computerized systems to avoid having too much or too little stock to sell. Inventory levels fell steadily throughout the recession—sales decreased by 16% in wholesale and by 4% in retail—then grew as demand rose in 2010. Wholesalers and retailers started to restock their inventories in the first quarter of 2010, when the ratio of inventories to sales—the lower the ratio, the better—reached a record low in retail and wholesale trade. This was partly achieved as a result of housing and retail sales rebounding quickly.

    Changes in employment

    Retailers and wholesalers, like many other industries, experienced increased rates of employment in 2010, as their overall employment rose 1.0% to 2.7 million employees, following a decrease of 1.2% in 2009. Employment in retail trade rose 1.4%, while employment in wholesale trade edged down 0.5%.

    Among provinces, retail employment grew most rapidly in Newfoundland and Labrador (10.4%) but declined the most in Saskatchewan (2.0%). Wholesale employment rose fastest in Prince Edward Island (25.0%) but fell most in Nova Scotia (13.9%).

    Among retailers, clothing and clothing accessory stores employed 3.1% more staff in 2010, whereas employment at food and beverage stores fell 3.3%. Employment in farm products wholesaler-distributors increased 4.6% in 2010, but employment in petroleum product wholesaler-distributors declined 2.8%.

    Over the longer term, the retail and wholesale trade industries have experienced job growth. In 2000, retailers employed 1.8 million people. By 2010, this number had grown to nearly 2.1 million people, a 16.8% increase. Meanwhile, the number employed by wholesalers rose 15.2% from 545,800 employees in 2000 to 628,900 employees in 2010.

    Chart 26.1 Retail and wholesale sales
    View data source for chart 26.1

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