Retail sales edged down 0.1% to $50.4 billion in December. Lower sales at gasoline stations (-3.6%) were partly offset by higher sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers (+1.0%). Excluding gasoline stations, retail sales increased 0.4%.
After removing the effects of price changes, retail sales in volume terms increased 0.2%.
Retail sales declined 0.5% in the fourth quarter of 2018, following a 0.7% increase in the third quarter. In volume terms, retail sales were relatively unchanged in the fourth quarter.
Retail sales in 2018 totalled $605 billion, up 2.7% from 2017.
Lower sales at gasoline stations
Sales at gasoline stations (-3.6%) declined for the second month in a row in December, largely due to lower prices at the pump. In volume terms, sales decreased 0.3%.
Following a 2.1% gain in November, sales at electronics and appliance stores decreased 4.0% in December.
Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers (+1.0%) increased for the fourth time in five months, led by higher sales at new car dealers (+1.2%).
Receipts at food and beverage stores (+0.9%) were up for the third time in four months, on the strength of higher sales at supermarkets and other grocery stores (+1.2%).
Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers (+3.1%) reported their first increase in six months.
Sales down in four provinces
In Ontario (-0.5%), retail sales were down for the second month in a row, mainly due to lower sales at gasoline stations. Sales in the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Toronto decreased 0.9%.
Retail sales in Quebec decreased by 0.2% on lower sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores. Sales in the CMA of Montréal were up 0.6%.
Following a weather related 5.7% decline in November, sales in Nova Scotia increased 5.2% in December.
Sales in Manitoba (+1.3%) increased for the first time in three months, on the strength of higher sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers.
E-commerce sales by Canadian retailers
The figures in the sections below are based on unadjusted (that is, not seasonally adjusted) estimates.
On an unadjusted basis, retail e-commerce sales were $2.0 billion in December, accounting for 3.7% of total retail trade. On a year-over-year basis, retail e-commerce increased 4.6% in December, while total unadjusted retail sales decreased 0.4%.
Retail sales in 2018
Canadian store retailers generated sales of $605 billion in 2018, up 2.7% from 2017. The increase was largely attributable to higher prices, as sales in volume terms were up 0.7%. Provincially, retail sales were up in eight provinces, with Ontario (+3.9%) leading the way. Following declines in 2015 and 2016, retail sales in Alberta (+1.7%) rose for the second year in a row.
Gasoline stations lead increase
Higher prices at the pump were the main contributor to the 7.9% gain at gasoline stations. Removing the effects of price changes, sales at gasoline stations in volume terms were down 3.2%. According to the Consumer Price Index, the annual average price of gasoline was 12.6% higher in 2018 than in 2017.
After a record setting year in 2017, when over two million new motor vehicles were sold, unit sales of new motor vehicles were down 2.0% in 2018. The decrease in units came from lower sales of passenger cars (-10.6%), which more than offset higher sales of trucks (+1.9%).
Receipts at food and beverage stores rose 1.9%, with gains reported in every province in 2018.
Cannabis stores enter retail landscape
Following the legalization of cannabis in October 2018, retail sales at cannabis stores totalled $151.5 million in the fourth quarter. Differences in retail structures in each province and territory affected the availability of cannabis products across the country.
Online sales continue to grow
Retail e-commerce, including sales from both store and non-store retailers, rose 14.7% to $18.0 billion in 2018. Retail e-commerce represented 2.9% of total retail sales, compared with 2.6% in 2017. During the November and December holiday shopping season, retail e-commerce accounted for 3.9% of total retail sales, up from 3.5% in 2017, in part due to strong retail e-commerce sales in November 2018. Approximately one-quarter of retail e-commerce sales took place during the 2018 holiday shopping season.