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Canadian retail sales dropped 10% in March

How the COVID-19 pandemic could change the retail industry
WATCH: How the COVID-19 pandemic could change the retail industry

Retail sales in Canada posted their biggest monthly decline on record in March and Statistics Canada warned that the drop for April is expected to be even bigger.

The agency said Friday retail sales fell 10 per cent to $47.1 billion in March as non-essential businesses began to shut their doors mid-month due to the pandemic.

However, Statistics Canada also said a preliminary estimate for April indicates a 15.6 per cent drop for the first full month of the pandemic.

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The March retail numbers were in line with economists’ average expectations according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

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The drop in March came as sales plunged a record 35.6 per cent at motor vehicle and parts dealers with sales at new car dealers down 38.5 per cent for the month.

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Record declines were also reported for clothing and clothing accessories stores and gasoline stations as they fell 51.3 per cent and 19.8 per cent respectively.

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Alberta retailers told to consider no-return policy amid COVID-19

But while Canadians stopped buying some things, sales of others soared as shoppers stocked up on household essentials.

Food and beverage stores, which gained 22.8 per cent, and general merchandise stores, which climbed 6.4 per cent, rose to their highest levels on record and posted their largest monthly gains.

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Excluding motor vehicle and parts dealers, retail sales were down 0.4 per cent for the month.

Regionally, sales were down in every province as Quebec posted the largest percentage decline at 15.7 per cent. Alberta fell 13 per cent, while Ontario dropped 9.0 per cent.

The retail sales report comes ahead of gross domestic product figures expected on May 29.

A preliminary estimate by Statistics Canada last month pointed to a nine per cent drop in GDP for March.

More to come