23+ Exciting Canada Retail Industry Statistics for 2021

Canada retail industry statistics show 2020 was incredibly challenging and changed the face of retail in Canada forever. Canada retail sales fluctuated, with the numbers plummeting at first before slowly recovering. 

As a result, many businesses reported barely managing to stay operational amid social distancing and lockdown restrictions. The uncertainty is likely to continue for some time.

And that’s not all:

Big stores in Canada are closing down physical locations, and everyone that can go online has. Here’s what retail looked like before the pandemic and what’s changed since.

Fascinating Canada Retail Industry Statistics (Editor’s Choice)

  • Retail sales amounted to $615 billion in 2019.
  • Around 11.6% of Canadians work in retail.
  • Lockdowns led to a 13.6% drop in retail sales in the first half of 2020.
  • Online sales reached a record of 11.4% in April 2020.
  • 88,187 Canadian businesses closed in April 2020.
  • 17.5% of Canadian businesses couldn’t remain open amid social distancing.
  • 80.9% of Canadian businesses witnessed a drop in demand for their products or services in 2020.

General Canadian Retail Industry Statistics

1. Retail market sales in Canada amounted to $615 billion in 2019.

(Source: Statista)

The Canadian retail market grew steadily from 2012 to 2019. The 2019 figure was a 1.6% rise from 2018. It should come as no surprise that Ontario and Quebec accounted for most of the retail sales in the country. Curiously, while other provinces spent more money on used and new cars, in Ontario, food and drink stores witnessed more sales.

2. Total retail sales amounted to $588.8 billion in 2017, Canada retail industry statistics reveal.

(Source: Retail Council)

Regional retail statistics by the Retail Council of Canada for 2018 looked like this:

Total retail sales for the entire country witnessed a 0.9% growth in retail sales, and the provinces had the following numbers:

  • British Columbia – $84.3 billion
  • Alberta – $80.3 billion
  • Saskatchewan – $19.6 billion
  • Manitoba – $20.4 billion
  • Yukon – $799.8 million
  • Northwest Territories – $768.9 million
  • Nunavut – $442.1 million
  • Newfoundland and Labrador – $9.2 billion
  • Prince Edward Island – $2.3 billion
  • Nova Scotia – $15.9 billion
  • New Brunswick – $12.8 billion
  • Quebec – $125.7 billion
  • Ontario – $216.3 billion

3. Core-retail sales in Canada amounted to $366.8 billion in 2017.

(Source: Retail Council)

When it comes to core-retail sales, the figures looked like this:

There was a 0.1% growth, excluding auto and gas, and the provinces showed the following results:

  • British Columbia – $54.0 billion
  • Alberta – $47.2 billion
  • Saskatchewan – $11.3 billion
  • Manitoba – $12.5 billion
  • Yukon – $508.8 million
  • Northwest Territories – N/A
  • Nunavut – N/A
  • Newfoundland and Labrador – $5.4 billion
  • Prince Edward Island – $1.4 billion
  • Nova Scotia – $9.3 billion
  • New Brunswick – $7.4 billion
  • Quebec – $79.4 billion
  • Ontario – $137.4 billion

4. There were around 142,103 retail stores in Canada in 2017. 

(Source: Retail Council)

According to Canada retail industry statistics, the number of retail stores in each province and territory in 2017 was as follows:

  • British Columbia – 20,398
  • Alberta – 17,219
  • Saskatchewan – 4,882
  • Manitoba –  4,712
  • Yukon – 186
  • Northwest Territories – 182
  • Nunavut –  80
  • Newfoundland and Labrador – 2,718
  • Prince Edward Island –  833
  • Nova Scotia – 4,103
  • New Brunswick – 3,398
  • Quebec – 32,932
  • Ontario – 51,460

5. Around 11.6% of Canadians worked in retail in 2017, Canada retail industry statistics show.

(Source: Retail Council)

That’s a total of 2,182,090 people. The number of retail jobs in Canada by province and territory was as follows:

  • British Columbia – 290,290
  • Alberta – 263,630
  • Saskatchewan –  67,455
  • Manitoba –  65,960 
  • Yukon – 3,630
  • Northwest Territories –  3,345
  • Nunavut –  1,645
  • Newfoundland and Labrador – 28,235
  • Prince Edward Island –  9,195
  • Nova Scotia – 65,635
  • New Brunswick – 42,060
  • Quebec – 497,840
  • Ontario – 843,170

6. The hourly salary for retail workers in early 2021 was $18.83, a drop from $22.54 in 2017.

(Source: Retail Council, Neuvoo)

The average salary for retail employees in Canada is around $36,723 a year, which amounts to $18.83 per hour. It’s significantly lower than the 2017 average of $22.54, with a total of $75.6 million paid in yearly salaries for the entire industry. 

The lowest salaries are for entry positions and start at $24,832, while those with experience can earn up to $62,400 per year.


Canadian Retail and COVID-19

7. Lockdowns led to a 13.6% drop in retail sales in the first half of 2020.

(Source: Statistics Canada)

The previous comparable recession is the one in 2009. During this period, the Retail Services Price Index (RSPI) dropped but was still positive, even if sales were decreasing overall. 

Now:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and closures led to a 13.6% fall in retail sales in Canada. When businesses sorted out their online offers, there was a modest 1.2% growth.

During the 2008/2009 recession, retail sales fell by 4.8% at the end of 2008. However, the Retail Services Price Index still stayed positive, going up by 0.2% and 1.3% in Q4 2008 and Q1 2009, respectively.

canada retail industry statistics

8. Core retail sales rose by 2.1% in September 2020.

(Source: Trading Economics)

In October 2020, retail sales in Canada marked six months of slow but steady rise since the big drop in April.  

An increase in sales in the Canadian retail industry could be observed in the following sectors:

  • Motor vehicle and parts dealers – 1.5%, with new car dealers taking up 0.8%
  • Sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores – 11.8% 
  • Furniture and home furnishings – 6.6% 
  • Building material, garden equipment, and supplies – 2.9%

Core retail sales rose by 2.1% and 0.3% in September and October 2020.

9. Up to 10% of all retail sales were conducted online in May 2020.

(Source: Statista, Canada Statistics) 

The percentage of online retail sales in Canada in 2016 was 2.4%. It grew to 4% in 2019.

In 2020, that number more than doubled, hitting a record 11.4% in April. In May 2020, the proportion of online sales decreased slightly to 10%.

10. An online retail record was set in May 2020 with $3.9 billion in sales. 

(Source: Canada Statistics, Statista)

Online retail sales reached $3.9 billion in May 2020, an absolute record for online Canada retail sales looking at the period from 2016 to 2020. This was an increase of 2.3% from April and a whopping 99.3% rise from February.

Looking at the numbers year over year, online shopping sales in Canada doubled between May 2019 and May 2021, with an increase of 110.8%. Click To Tweet

In December 2019, at the peak of holiday online shopping, the sales of top Canadian online retailers reached $2.76 billion Canadian dollars.

All retail sales were down to $33.9 billion in April 2021, which is 29.1% less than in February 2021, and 26.4% less than in February 2019. However, total retail sales went up in May 2021, reaching $39.3 billion.

11. A total of 88,187 Canadian businesses closed in April 2020, while others cut numbers of locations.

(Source: Statistics Canada, Style Democracy)

Retail stores in Canada closed in the thousands as the pandemic hit hard. Even those that did not go under had to cut down on the number of shops.

What’s worse:

Many businesses announced their stores closing in Canada in 2021 because of the recession. For example, Lowes announced the closing of 34 Lowe’s and Rona stores even before the pandemic hit.

Bose announced in January 2021 it was closing down 119 stores globally, including in Canada, due to the increase of online shopping. 

Pier 1 Imports closed a total of 450 stores in North America, 67 of which in Canada.

Links of London closed all five of its locations in Canada following the shutting down trend in the UK and the US.

Next:

Carlton Cards & Papyrus announced closing all 78 stores only in Canada, and 178 in the US.

Finally, after a 37% fall in sales, Victoria’s Secret announced closing 250 stores in North America.

12. Up to 80.9% of businesses saw a drop in demand in Q1 and Q2 2020.

(Source: Retail Council)

Without sources of revenue, around 42.2% of businesses reported not being able to continue longer than 60 days. Additionally, 51.1% were not able to operate over 90 days, with over eight in ten seeing decreased demand.

Comparing Q1 2020 and the same period in 2019, 53.5% of businesses had a decrease of more than 20%, 17.9% up to 20%, 14.3% had no change, and 10.5% enjoyed revenue increases.

13. Around 17.5% of businesses couldn’t remain open due to social distancing. 

(Source: Retail Council)

Partially or fully open, many businesses in the retail industry in Canada could not remain open for long.

Here’s the deal:

Up to 17.5% couldn’t stay open at all, 22.2% could remain open for less than three months. 11.9% said that period was from three to six months. Only 32.1% reported being able to remain open for over six months with social distancing.

Up to 38.1% of businesses report having to reduce employee hours or numbers of shifts, and 40.5% have been forced to lay staff off.

14. Up to 45.4% of businesses are trying out novel ways and methods of reaching and interacting with buyers.

(Source: Retail Council)

If 2020 was a year of limitations, it was also one when challenges pushed retailers to find innovative ways of doing things. 

Here are some findings:

  • 17.9% changed ways of production
  • 35.4% changed their products or services 
  • 44.5% tried working from home
  • 11.6% started testing online shopping
  • 10.6% attempted new staff training methods
  • 62.3% reported being able to be back to normal work routine within a month of social distancing being over

15. Canadian ecommerce is expected to grow by 7.7% in 2021.

(Source: Statista, Statista)

A Canada retail sales forecast for 2021 regarding online shopping showed ecommerce in Canada grew by 12.2% in 2020 and is expected to grow by 7.7% in 2021. The pre-pandemic growth was 8.1% in 2019. By 2024, it’s going to go down gradually until it reaches 4.9%.


Top Retail Companies in Canada

16. In 2018, Loblaws/Shoppers Drug Mart owned the highest Canadian grocery market share, 24%. 

(Source: Statista, Statista)

Looking at the largest Canadian retailers, Loblaws/Shoppers Drug Mart was at the very top of the food chain, with just shy of one-quarter of the Canadian grocery retail market. Walmart followed with 6%.

What’s more:

Loblaws is also the leading retail Canadian company on the market overall, based on revenue. Its biggest competitor is Metro Inc., with a net income of $730 million in 2019.

Canadian grocery industry analysis shows Walmart, the world’s largest retailer based on revenue, was the most popular among top Canadian retailers, with around 50% of consumers shopping there. The second and third were Real Canadian Superstore and Costco.

17. First on the list of retailers is George Weston Ltd., with $48.6 billion in revenue and $530 million in profit in 2018.

(Source: Retail Insider, Canadian Encyclopedia)

The top ten retailers on the Canadian market are:

  • George Weston Limited, Canada 

(Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore, Shoppers Drug Mart)

  • Costco, Inc., US
  • Empire Company Ltd., Canada 

(Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Farm Boy)

  • Walmart Stores Inc., US
  • Metro Inc., Canada 

(Metro, Food Basics, Jean Coutu Pharmacy)

  • Canadian Tire Corporation, Canada 

(Canadian Tire, Mark’s Work Wearhouse, SportChek)

  • McKesson Corporation, US 

(IDA Pharmacy, Uniprix, Rexall Drug Store)

  • Lowe’s, US 

            (Lowe’s, Rona, Rona Home & Garden)

  • The Home Depot Inc., US
  • Home Hardware Stores Ltd., Canada 

(Home Hardware, Home Hardware Building Centre)

18. Loblaw is the 30th biggest retail company in the world. 

(Source: The Balance)

Looking at top retailers in Canada and where they stand among the top 250 retail companies in the world in terms of revenue in 2019, Loblaw placed closest to the top.

Next:

The Empire Company Ltd. was 53rd, Hudson’s Bay Company was 91st, Metro Inc. Supermarket was 101st., Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. was 109th, and Save On Foods was 231st.

19. Out of 145 retailers in 20 different sectors in Ontario, Reitmans is ranked number one for customer in-store experience.

(Source: CTV News)

When it comes to the in-store experience, the customers ranked top retail companies in Canada

in 2020 in the following order. 

Reitmans was the best and highest among the 

Canadian department stores ranked in the study conducted by an analytics company Leger.

  • Reitmans
  • Lush
  • The Body Shop
  • Saje
  • Lego
  • MEC
  • Fire & Flower Cannabis Co
  • M&M Food Market
  • Bath & Body Works
  • Yves Rocher
  • Nespresso
  • Lee Valley Tools

20. Food and Beverage Stores, Grocery, Alcohol and Convenience Stores is the leading industry in retail sales, with $11,675.1 million.

(Source: Retail Council)

Statistics Canada retail sales, by industry, in October 2020:

  • Auto Parts, Tires, Parts and Accessories, excluding car sales –  $952.7 million
  • Furniture and Home Furnishings – $1,859 million
  • Electronics and Appliances – $1,306.6 million
  • Building Materials and Garden Equipment – $3,937.5 million
  • Food and Beverage Stores, Grocery, Alcohol, and Convenience Stores – $11,675.1 million
  • Health and Personal Care, including Pharmacy- $4,316.3 million
  • Clothing and Accessories – $2,609.9 million
  • Sporting, hobby, books, and music – $1,201.5 million
  • General Merchandise – $6,768.1 million 

21. Up to 85% of people will do some of their back-to-school shopping online.

(Source: Online Business Canada) 

Back to school has never looked as it does now. So, last year’s figures would not paint the real picture for the current situation. 

That being said: 

There’s plenty we can conclude from parents’ responses. Online shopping has already turned into a habit for many Canadians. However, the pandemic has turned even those previously choosing brick-and-mortar shops to do their back-to-school shopping online this year.

Around 38.8% of Canadians said they shopped more online this year, and 85% said they would do at least some of their back-to-school shopping online. Click To Tweet

Next:

Some 28% of Canadians shopping for high school children report they will do most shopping online, 20% will buy half of the stuff in the store and half online, 18% will buy everything online, and 15% of back to school sales, Canada will do in-store only.

22. Around 87% of college students buy at least some back-to-school items online.

(Source: Online Business Canada) 

Canadian retail sales statistics show that when it comes to students, 27% will do most of the shopping online, 25% will buy half of the things online and half in-store, 18% will buy back to school essentials mostly in-store, 17% will buy everything online, and 13% will buy everything in a shop.

23. 62% of high school students intended to spend over $500 on back-to-school shopping.

(Source: Online Business Canada) 

More than six in ten grade and high school supplies shoppers said they planned to spend over $500 during the back to school sales in Canada in 2020.

  • 38% said they would spend less than $500
  • 38% between $500 and $1000
  • 17% from $1000 to $2000
  • 7% over $2000

They would be buying from the following categories:

  • Cleaning and sanitizing products, including masks – 28%
  • Classic school supplies (books, bags, notebooks, stationery, drawing kits) – 23%
  • Tech – 20%
  • Clothing – 20%
  • Packed food and snacks – 6%
  • Sports equipment – 3%

24. Around 52% of college students planned to spend less than $500 on back-to-school shopping.

(Source: Online Business Canada) 

  • 31% planned to spend $500-$1000
  • 13% between $1000 and $2000
  • 5% over $2000

They planned to buy the following:

  • Cleaning and sanitizing products, including masks – 26%
  • Tech – 22%
  • Traditional school supplies – 13%
  • Clothes – 13%
  • Household items – 9%
  • Phones – 5%
  • Prepared food and snacks – 4%
  • Sports equipment – 3%
  • Vehicles – 2%
  • TV, audio, and gaming equipment – 1%

The Bottom Line

Canada retail sales have shifted online because of the pandemic, but the trend was not as dramatic as you might think. Still, it’s slowly creating some new habits that will be here to stay. 

Even though they have proved essential, the hourly wages of retail workers continue to be lower than before. 

What’s worse:

Many retailers were forced to cut the number of staff and change the shift rosters. Canada retail industry statistics predict that the small businesses were most affected by the second lockdown imposed in December 2020. So, it should come as no surprise that there is a justified fear over one-third might go under. 

The thing is:

Some retailers already faced bankruptcy, while the overall trend is forecast to be one of very slow recovery for the large retailers. Even provided there are no more lockdowns, we can expect the consequences of the pandemic to last well into 2022.

FAQ

How many retail stores are in Canada?

There were 142,103 retail stores in Canada in 2018. The recession that was triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic caused many stores to close. The final number is yet to be reported, but many retailers closed their underperforming or unsustainable locations and moved their products to the stores of other retailers or online.

Who is the biggest retailer in Canada?

The biggest retailer in the country is George Weston Ltd, a conglomerate under which you can find retail chains in Canada such as Shoppers Drug Mart, The Real Canadian Superstore, and Loblaws, just to name a few from the Canadian retailers list.

George Weston Ltd. had revenue of $48.6 billion and profits of $530 million in 2018, and the companies held assets worth $43.8 billion. The conglomerate had 203,238 employees in 2018, which is the highest number for any company in the private sector.

The company was founded in 1882 as a bakery run by George Weston of Toronto.

What percentage of retail sales in Canada is conducted online?

The percentage of online sales in Canada in 2016 was 2.4% and grew to 4% in 2019.
In 2020, that number more than doubled, reaching a record 11.4% in April. In May 2020, the proportion of online sales was 10%. When it comes to the electronics and media segment, the most popular Canadian electronic stores were Amazon.ca, Apple.com, Amazon.com, Bestbuy.ca and Walmart.ca.

When are the sales in Canada?

Canada has a yearly sales cycle. For example, you’ll be able to find winter or summer clothes on sale in January and September.

On sale in Canadian retail stores in January, aside from winter clothes, you can find Christmas items, toys, gym equipment and memberships, bedding and towels (White Sale), computers and small appliances, even boats, motorcycles and houses.

In February, you can buy cameras, TVs, houseware, electronics and furniture. Cleaning supplies, paper towels and toilet paper, luggage and spring clothes are cheaper in March. April has sales for winter clothes and shoes, tires, paint, ham, cookware and Easter decoration.

In May, there’s another White Sale for towels and bedding, and cleaning items but also things such as bottled water, ice cream, and salad dressings. Canadian shopping in June is all about BBQs and BBQ supplies and related items.

In July, you can find Air Conditioners as well as craft items and party supplies on sale. In August, the cheaper items are school supplies, back-to-school clothes and snacks, and bathing suits.

Summer clothes are on sale in September in Canadian stores, but you can also buy bicycles and appliances, as well as gardening equipment. October sales are for fishing and baking supplies, cars, and lawnmowers, but you can also get a turkey on sale in the lead up to Thanksgiving.

In November, it’s time for blankets, winter clothes, and, once again, baking supplies and turkeys. Finally, December is the best month to buy carpets and flooring, electronics and tools, as well as toys, Canada retail industry statistics confirm.

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