If we stop to consider not only how quickly stay-at-home orders, social distancing and masks became normal, but how quickly we stop spending unless we had to, it is no surprise that Canada like many other countries have experienced a dip in retail sales in March. 



Even with the controlled access while shopping, many customers state it has been a bit stressful experience to leave the house to get essentials. That fear and reticence are starting to show up in almost every data point, as retail sales data for March 2020 is now available. 


Retail Sales Data


Statistics Canada released record-breaking sales data for retailers in Canada. The data was broken out by sector and it reflects what actually occurred when non-essential businesses were forced to close their doors mid-March. 


The March sales data capture a glimpse into the panic during the first weeks of closure and overall shows a decline in sales of 10 percent in March to approximately $47 billion, just as the lockdown was taking effect. According to the Financial Post, only 40 percent of retailers were closed for an average of five business days in March. However, 91 percent of clothing and clothing accessories stores were closed for an average of 13 days.


What does the data show? Although there was a decline of 10 percent in March, data shows that if we take out gasoline and auto sales, the stats reveal an increase of 2.8% in retail sales in March 2020, driven mainly by grocery sales. Grocery sales alone accounted for a third of retail in March.


April however will be a different story as retailers were closed for the whole month. StatsCan is estimating that April data will likely show approximately a 15.6 percent decline in sales. 


Overall if businesses were closed in May as well, this back-to-back decline of this magnitude would have been new, unchartered water for all of us, so businesses opening in May 2020 has brought a brighter outlook for retail. 


Winners and Losers during March 2020


One thing is certain; many Canadians are ready to go back to normal, so the real question is, where are we headed? 


The divide between essential and non-essential retail business defined which retailers would be winners and which would be losers during the stay-at-home orders. 


Retailers that sold shoes, clothes and luxury items like jewelry were the hardest hit as they lost half their retail sales if not more, as compared to March 2019. Retailers that did the best were liquor, beer, grocery and beverages, in general, earned 20 to 30 percent more in March over the previous year.


Retail sectors like health and personal care also did well at 4.6 percent increase, cannabis sales were up 19.2 percent and e-commerce jumped up by 40.4 percent year-over-year.


These numbers show a true divide between the retailers directly affected and those who actually faired well. As investors in CRE Retail, we need to know who were the winners, and who will continue to be the winners so we know where to direct our investments. 




As the data shows, Canada retail overall did okay in March 2020 when transportation costs were removed as people were under stay-at-home orders and not going anywhere but to work or to stock up on the essentials. April will show big declines in sales but May will hopefully help the economy bounce back stronger. 


Which habits will bounce back and which will drive the eventual recovery of the economy, is ultimately what everyone will be watching for over the coming months.

Skip to content