Could Canadian retail sales be on the rebound?

Ed Strapagiel says Q2 may have been one of the worst ever for the industry, but it has recently begun to show signs of life.

Canadian retail sales are starting to rebound as the nation’s economy has slowly re-opened in recent months, a new analysis from consultant Ed Strapagiel suggests.

His analysis of the most recent Statistics Canada data shows that retail sales declined by 14.5% year-over-year in Q2, potentially “the worst quarter ever.” However, there is reason to be optimistic, as the rolling three-month average is showing the beginnings of a bounce-back, rising from -20% to roughly -15%, with a corresponding upward tick in the full-year average.

Another positive sign: retail sales were up 4.8% year-over-year for June, after being down an average of 20% from March to May.

June was also a positive month for store merchandise retail sales, up 6.4% compared to a year ago, though are still down 12.1% year-over-year.

General merchandise sales were up 6.4% in the second quarter, “well ahead” of the overall retail average, though Strapagiel points out that this category include stores such as Costco and Walmart that also sell food, as well as Canadian Tire and Hudson’s Bay, which have more developed e-commerce capabilities.

Conversely, due to mall-based retailers being closed, clothing and clothing accessories’ stores were hit very hard, with retail sales down 57.7% in Q2 (which ended in June, when many of them had yet to reopen). Similarly, home furnishing stores saw a significant decline in sales in the same quarter (down 38.2%), while sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores were off 23.2%.

While brick-and-mortar retail shops have been reeling during the pandemic, e-commerce has been flourishing as more and more Canadians choose to shop from behind their keyboards amid health and safety concerns of going out in public. Canadian e-commerce sales were up 102.3% (double) year-over-year in the second quarter of this year.

This may cool off somewhat once pandemic conditions subside, but it’s unlikely that all of it will return to bricks and mortar shopping,” Strapagiel predicts.

Automotive and related retail sales were down significantly in the second quarter of this year. Sales were down 31.9% versus a year ago, including a 35.5% decline at gasoline stations and a 34.3% drop in sales at automobile dealers due to Canadians travelling less. However, there may be hope for the segment: though it wasn’t enough to make up for the steep declines of previous months, new car dealers managed a year-over-year sales increase of 5.3% when looking at June alone.

The food and drug sector – and the necessities found within that category – predictably had retail sales up 7.5% in Q2, year-over-year, although the three-month trend is beginning to level off, which means sales growth in the sector may have reached its peak.

Health and personal care retail sales declined 4.3% in the second quarter, which could be attributed to cosmetics, beauty supply stores, opticians and other retailers having to close during the pandemic lockdown.