Retail sales plunged in April but Alberta's declines were smaller than most

Retail sales fell across the country in April amid widespread shutdowns due to COVID-19, while Alberta's declines were the second smallest among all provinces.

Kenney says Alberta had the 'least stringent public-health restrictions of any Canadian province'

Calgarians line up to get into the IKEA store after it reopened last month. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Retail sales fell across the country in April amid widespread shutdowns due to COVID-19, while Alberta's declines were the second-smallest among all provinces.

Nationwide sales fell 26.4 per cent in April to $34.7 billion on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to data released Friday by Statistics Canada.

"While essential retailers such as supermarkets and other grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, gasoline stations and beer, wine and liquor stores remained open with reduced hours, most Canadian retailers did not offer in-store shopping in April," the federal agency said in a release.

"Nevertheless, many retailers started or expanded their online presence and curbside pickup services in response to the closures."

Statistics Canada estimates that approximately a third of retailers closed during April, with an average shutdown lasting eight business days.

Clothing and accessories stores were affected more than most, with an estimated 70 per cent of them shutting down in April for an average of 20 business days.

Sales were down in every province but some saw larger declines than others.

"The largest declines occurred in Ontario (–32.8 per cent) and Quebec (–27.8 per cent) — the provinces reporting the most COVID-19 cases in April," Statistics Canada said.

Alberta (–18.4 per cent) and Saskatchewan (–14.8 per cent) saw the smallest declines, compared with March.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Friday the COVID-19 pandemic has "imposed a lot of damage on our economy" but also noted the province saw less restrictive measures than others.

"Alberta had the least stringent public-health restrictions of any Canadian province and amongst the most limited restrictions in the entire Western world," Kenney said. "In fact, 85 per cent of businesses were able to continue to operate within new health guidelines, representing 88 per cent of our workforce and 96 per cent of our province's GDP."

Worst appears 'behind us'

Overall, retail sales across Canada were down 33.6 per cent since physical-distancing measures were implemented in mid-March, according to Statistics Canada.

Richard Forbes, senior economist with the Conference Board of Canada, noted the drop in retail sales in April marked the largest monthly decline on record — for the second month in a row.

"Thankfully, it appears that the worst period for retailers is now behind us, and a recovery in retail sales is likely to have begun in May," he said in a release.

Retail sales numbers for May usually wouldn't be made available for several more weeks, but in light of the "rapidly evolving economic situation," Statistics Canada offered an advanced estimate, which suggest sales increased nationally by 19.1 per cent last month compared with April.

"Owing to its preliminary nature," the agency cautioned, "this figure should be expected to be revised."


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