Sharpest-Ever Dive for Retail Sales in March

Another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic; Canadian retail sales took their biggest one-month spill ever during March.

Figures released Friday by Statistics Canada revealed that about 40% of Canadian retailers closed their doors in March, as government lockdowns and physical distancing requirements set in.

March's plunge was more than twice as bad as the previous record of 4.5%, set in February 1998.

The data agency says April's preliminary numbers suggest that month's data are likely to be even worse, down 15% from March's already low level, but the numbers released Friday show just how bad things got in just the first two weeks of lockdown.

Overall, Canadians spent just $47 billion at retailers in March, making for the worst month since 2016.

Just about every type of retailer saw sales plummet during the month, but those deemed non-essential bore the brunt, including: a 51% drop in sales at clothing stores, 35% at motor vehicle and parts dealers, 24% at furniture and home furnishing, 23% at hobby, book and music stores, and 19% at gas pumps.

It was a brighter story at grocery stores that saw booming business as Canadians stocked up to shelter in place. Food and beverage sales were up 22%, while general merchandise stores had their best month ever, with sales up 6.4%.