Store and auto sales boom, but food may soon decline

However, according to retail analyst Ed Strapagiel, much of the growth is due to comparisons to last year.

640x350-retail-hero-fairview-mallThe store merchandise sector has “taken off like a rocket,” while auto sales are surging, according to Stats Canada retail analyst Ed Strapagiel.

Store merchandise gained 35% year over year for the three months ending April, an all time record for the sector.

Sales levels at most store types (with the exception of the still-struggling clothing, jewellery and luggage categories) were back up to  pre-pandemic levels or better, thanks to improvements in online shopping, curbside pickup and home delivery, as well as growing consumer comfort with these shopping methods.

The sector helped boost total retail sales in Canada, which were up by a record setting 28.3% year-over-year over the same period. However, much like last month’s sales numbers, that comes with an important caveat: in the same period last year, total sales were significantly depressed thanks to the pandemic, meaning part of the surge in growth is due to a favourable comparison to a historically weak sales period.

The once moribund Automotive & Related sector has also come roaring back, Strapagiel says. Over the three months ending April 2021, sector retail sales were up 53.7% year-over-year. Though a positive sign, once again, the huge gains are largely the result of comparing this year to the very depressed sales figures from 2020.

Still, however, new car dealers’ retail sales gains were particularly strong, according to the analyst, up 67.9% year-over-year for the 3 months ending April.

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While health and personal care, one of the COVID bright spots, has retained its strength – gaining 9.5% for the three months ending in April – other pandemic stalwarts are not so lucky.

The Food & Drug sector, for example, is now settling back to earth. Retail sales in this space were up a mere 1.6% year-over-year for the three months ending April 2021, while the underlying trend is one of further decline.

Supermarkets and other grocery stores, which make up just over half of the sector, saw their retail sales down 3.5% over the three months ending April, the first such decline in five years. 

Ecommerce sales, which represent 6.6% of Canadian retail sales over the last 12 months, are continuing their red-hot performance: total ecommerce sales were up 44.9% year over year, building on the gains of 71% from the same period last year.

Regionally, sales growth is largely correlating with the impact of the pandemic and local health restrictions. PEI and Quebec are leading the retail sales charge, surging 42.7% and 42%, whilst Toronto and its surrounding area only grew 11.9% over the same period.