Retail sales were virtually unchanged at $51.6 billion in December, after growing 1.1% in November. Higher sales at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers, as well as food and beverage stores were more than offset by lower sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers and gasoline stations. Sales were up in 7 of 11 subsectors, representing 49% of retail trade. Retail sales in volume terms were unchanged.

Retail sales decreased 0.2% in the fourth quarter, after increasing 0.3% in the third quarter. Retail sales volumes were down 0.5%, following a 0.3% increase in the third quarter.

Sales totalled $615 billion in 2019, up 1.6% from 2018. Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers (+3.8%) reported the largest sales increase in December and its largest monthly gain since June (+5.3%).

Sales up in eight provinces

Retail sales in Ontario rose 0.4% as a result of higher sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers. In the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Toronto, retail sales were up 1.8%.

In Alberta (+1.0%), the increase in retail sales more than offset November’s decline (-0.8%). The growth in December was driven by higher sales at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers.

Quebec (-1.4%) saw its largest monthly decline in retail sales since November 2018. In the CMA of Montréal, retail sales decreased 2.9%.

E-commerce sales by Canadian retailers

On an unadjusted basis, retail e-commerce sales were $2.6 billion in December, accounting for 4.7% of total retail trade, the largest share on record. On a year-over-year basis, retail e-commerce increased 31.5%, while total unadjusted retail sales rose 2.7%.

Retail sales in 2019

Canadian retailers finished 2019 with $615 billion in sales, up 1.6% from 2018. However, this marked the lowest annual movement in retail sales since 2009 (-2.9%), when Canada was in the midst of an economic downturn. Sales rose in 8 of 11 subsectors in 2019.  Rising prices drove the growth in retail sales as volumes increased 0.4% in 2019, the slowest pace since 2009 (-1.7%). Ontario (+2.8%) and Quebec (+1.9%) led the national gain in retail sales. In contrast, sales in Alberta decreased 0.9% following a 2.0% increase in 2018. Sales were down in Saskatchewan (-0.5%) and Newfoundland and Labrador (-0.3%) for the second consecutive year.

E-commerce continues to capture a larger share of the retail sector

The pace of e-commerce sales growth accelerated to 22.4% in 2019, with online sales from store and non-store retailers reaching a combined $22.1 billion. As a result, the share of retail e-commerce as a percentage of total retail sales continued to grow in 2019, reaching 3.5%. During November and December, when holiday shopping and retail promotions occur, e-commerce accounted for 4.6% of total retail sales, up from 3.9% in 2018 and the highest level on record.

Source: Statistics Canada