As the COVID pandemic began to unfold in March, wide-spread lockdowns came into effect and businesses were forced to close. As a result, retail sales in Canada fell 10% to $47.1 billion – the lowest level on record.
Statistics Canada reported Friday that about 40% of Canadian retailers closed their doors in March, as many were deemed non-essential and government lockdowns and physical distancing requirements were enforced. While the average length of shutdown was just five business days, it was still enough to push sales down more than twice as bad as the previous record of 4.5%, set in February 1998.
In March, just about every retailer was impacted, with motor vehicle and parts dealers, clothing and clothing accessories stores, and gasoline stations showing record declines.
According to Statistics Canada, these retailers were impacted the most:
- Clothing stores, down 51%
- Motor vehicle and parts dealers, down 35%
- Furniture and home furnishings, down 24%
- Hobby, book and music stores, down 23%
- Gas stations, down 19%
While many retailers were hurt by COVID-19 in March, some reported record higher sales. Unsurprisingly, sales at food and beverage (22.8%) and general merchandise (6.4%) stores rose to the highest level on record and posted their largest monthly gain since the beginning of the series. Sales at health and personal care stores also rose 4.6% in March, the fifth consecutive monthly increase and the highest sales level on record.
However, despite all of the declines, there was at least one silver lining in the month of March: COVID caused many Canadian retailers to open or expand their e-commerce platforms in response to physical distancing measures and storefront closures, which accounted for $2.2 billion in sales, a mark 40% higher than it was in the same month last year.