Retail sales in Alberta through the first 11 months of 2020 were down nearly three per cent from the prior year, says Statistics Canada.
ATB Financial says in its Alberta economic report The Owl that while the 2.9 per cent in retail sales does not signal a “retail apocalypse.”
“That is not great news, but given the level of economic disruption we’ve been experiencing, it could have been a lot worse,” says ATB in its assessment released this week. “It’s also encouraging that sales in 2020 were consistently higher than in 2019 from June through November.”
Compared with 2017, when the economy was doing better than 2019, sales were down by 10.5 per cent last year. Compared with the 2014 peak, sales were down by 16.6 per cent.
Year-to-date per capita sales in constant dollars were down by 5.7 per cent as of November.
The numbers are for the retail sector as a whole and sales for individual sectors and businesses will vary, says ATB.
“The year-to-date sales posted by clothing stores, for example, were down by 26.2 per cent in November whereas sales at food and beverage stores were up by 7.4 per cent.”
The numbers show that thanks to pandemic-related income support programs, retail spending did not collapse in 2020.
December’s numbers are not out yet but Statistics Canada is expecting them to be down although consumers appear to have spent enough to ward off what could have been an even worse year, says ATB.
“And while some retailers did well, or at least well enough, last year, many struggled and will continue to do so as the pandemic wears on.”
ATB analysts also point out that “it could have been worse” is not good economic news.