Calgary

Alberta retail sales grow more than 13% in 2021

The pandemic is not stopping Albertans from shopping, new figures show. 

Despite lower numbers in December, retail sales are up on the year

New data says Albertans took part in a lot of retail therapy in 2021. (Colleen De Neve for CBC)

The pandemic is not stopping Albertans from shopping, new figures show. 

Alberta saw strong retail sales numbers in 2021, with total sales 13.1 per cent higher than in 2020, and 10 per cent higher than in 2019, according to an analysis from ATB Financial, based on Statistics Canada figures. 

Albertans also spent more in stores in 2021 than they have in eight years. 

ATB said that, even when adjusted for inflation, sales in Alberta in 2021 passed levels not seen since 2014, by 0.6 per cent.

"There has been a little bit more money kicking around in the province in terms of, for example, fewer people travelling," said analysis author Rob Roach, deputy chief economist at ATB Financial. 

He said this caused people to spend more at retail and online stores, with especially strong sales at car dealerships, health and personal care stores, building and garden centres and general merchandise stores compared with 2020 and 2019.

"A little bit of this is driven by inflation, not all of it," he said. 

But despite increased sales it doesn't mean all retail stores are doing well across the board. 

"There's also higher costs and the disruption of the pandemic and other factors. So these are sort of overall numbers … it does vary store to store," Roach said. 

Despite overall growth, retail sales were down in December, compared with the previous year. 

Charles St-Arnaud, chief economist at Alberta Central, a trade association for the province's credit unions, said flooding in B.C. and a rising wave of Omicron infections affected spending, but noted it's important to look at the bigger picture. 

"There's been a lot of volatility on a month-over-month basis. So sometimes, if you compare to December last year, it was just way stronger because there was a lifting of restrictions. It kind of distorted data." 

St-Arnaud said there may be a shift in how Canadians spend their money in the coming year, potentially shifting to travel services, restaurants and concerts. 

"There'll be a lot of interesting trends that we'll have to look for. One is whether or not we have more waves of infection, especially that now we're seeing reopening or reduction in terms of restrictions." 

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