Retail sales rise 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion in November as online shopping surges

OTTAWA — Retail sales climbed for the seventh straight month in November as Black Friday deals and a rush to order online gifts early to avoid shipping delays pushed sales up 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion, Statistics Canada said Friday.

But the federal agency's unofficial early estimate for December appeared to dampen the retail momentum.

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It said sales for the last month of 2020 – typically the peak of the holiday shopping season – potentially fell by as much as 2.6 per cent.

Retail expert Farla Efros said it's not surprising the sales would taper off in December given the heavy discounting offered on Black Friday in November, as well as Amazon's decision to move its Prime Day to mid-October.

"Most people took the opportunity to do their shopping early and get those deals," said Efros, president of HRC Retail Advisory.

In addition, Toronto and the Peel region went into lockdown in late November, followed by the entire province of Ontario on Boxing Day.

Efros said those restrictions likely negatively impacted retail sales throughout December.

Meanwhile, the latest Statistics Canada figures show a strong growth in online shopping in November.

Retail e-commerce sales for November were up 75.9 per cent from the same month a year earlier, the agency said.

"The rise in sales coincided with retailers urging online shoppers to buy early to avoid shipping delays, as well as promotional events such as Black Friday," Statistics Canada said in its release.

Royce Mendes, senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets, said in a client note that the growth in e-commerce sales was likely led by households staying at home more as COVID-19 cases were rising.

He said numbers don't include "some of the largest online retailers, which the survey doesn't capture."

Food and beverage store sales were up 5.9 per cent in November, even as about three per cent of all retailers were closed at some point in the month as restrictions tightened amid a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

Efros pointed out that restaurants in some areas were forced to close in November, likely leading to the increase in retail food sales at grocery stores.

She said food price inflation may have also pushed the sales figures higher as well.

Meanwhile, sales at auto parts dealers fell in November for the first time since April, as truck sales declined four per cent from November 2019, and passenger car sales tumbled 20.5 per cent compared with the same month last year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan 22, 2021.

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