Canadian retail sales remain in free fall

The latest analysis by Ed Strapagiel shows that sales gains from food and drug is helping to pull the parachute ripcord.

Women clothes in fashion store. Shopping mall. Women fashion shopping concept.

The glass appears half empty, or maybe wholly empty depending on your perspective, as the latest Stats Canada insights from Ed Strapagiel reveal a total unadjusted retail sales decline of 20% for May 2020, versus the same month a year ago ⁠— an improvement, of sorts, over the spectacular free fall and year-over-year drop of 31.3% recorded in April.

As reported recently in strategy, the hardest hit categories remain clothing and accessories, furniture and home furnishings, and autos for this period.

Clothing and clothing accessories stores in particular “are being decimated,” says the analyst, with retail sales down an astounding 69.2% for the three months ending May as a result of mall closures due to the pandemic, which are only now gradually reopening.


Furniture and home furnishings saw a big decline of 43.8% for the three months ending in May, topping a dismal three months leading up to March, when the category tumbled 26%.

Automobiles and related sales fared just as badly, a sector which in Strapagiel’s earlier report, “looks like it has just driven off a cliff”: retail sales were down 43% for the 3 months ending May versus a year ago, including a 48.9% drop at new car dealers and a 36.5% decline at gasoline stations.


The bright spot amidst the Sturm und Drang remains the food and drug sector, which is showing what Strapagiel calls “unprecedented” retail sales increases, gaining 9.3% for the three months ending May (versus a year ago). And thanks largely to COVID-19, supermarkets and other grocery stores have cashed in as well, with retail sales up 18.1% year-over-year. Convenience stores also did well, gaining 11.9%.

Building on earlier data, StatsCan reveals a “huge increase” in e-commerce spending. In recent months, e-commerce retail sales were up more than double versus a year ago. This includes an 112.7% increase in May and a 123.6% gain in April.

According to the report, overall, e-commerce represented about 4.5% of Canadian retail sales for the 12 months ending May 2020, including both pure-play as well as brick-and-clicks stores. In May 2020 alone, e-commerce’s share of total retail was up a record high of 9.5%.