Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)

Industrial Summary

Retail Trade

(NAICS 4411-4543)

This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in retailing merchandise, generally without transformation, and rendering services incidental to the sale of merchandise. The retailing process is the final step in the distribution of merchandise in small quantities to the general public. Food and beverage stores are the most important segment within the industry, accounting for 18% of production and 24% of employment in 2018. Other key segments include motor vehicle and parts dealers (16% of production and 12% of employment), health and personal care stores (12%, 10%), general merchandise stores (10%, 11%), and clothing stores (10%, 10%). With a total of 2.1 million workers in 2018, it was the largest employer across the economy. The workforce is characterized by a strong concentration of young (27% of workers are aged between 15 and 24) and part-time workers (33%). Employment is distributed proportionately to population: 38% in Ontario, 24% in Quebec, 13% in British Columbia, 12% in Alberta and 13% in the remaining provinces, with women accounting for a slight majority of the workforce (53%). Key occupations (4-digit NOC) include:

  • Retail salespersons (6421)
  • Cashiers (6611)
  • Retail and wholesale trade managers (0621)
  • Retail sales supervisors (6211)
  • Store shelf stockers, clerks and order fillers (6622)
  • Butchers, meat cutters and fishmongers - retail and wholesale (6331)
  • Other medical technologists and technicians (except dental health) (3219)
  • Automotive service technicians, truck and bus mechanics and mechanical repairers (7321)
  • Material handlers (7452)
  • Pharmacists (3131)
  • Shippers and receivers (1521)
  • Other customer and information services representatives (6552)
  • Food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support occupations (6711)
  • Other sales related occupations (6623)
  • Delivery and courier service drivers (7514)
  • Bakers (6332)
  • Retail and wholesale buyers (6222)
  • Service station attendants (6621)
  • Supervisors, supply chain, tracking and scheduling co-ordination occupations (1215)
  • Accounting and related clerks (1431)
  • Specialized cleaners (6732)
  • Transport truck drivers (7511)
  • Purchasing and inventory control workers (1524)
  • Opticians (3231)
  • Other automotive mechanical installers and servicers (7535)
  • Storekeepers and partspersons (1522)
  • Other repairers and servicers (7445)
  • Motorcycle, all-terrain vehicle and other related mechanics (7334)
  • Photographic and film processors (9474)
  • Jewellers, jewellery and watch repairers (6344)

Retail trade is closely linked to wholesale trade and is essentially driven by consumer spending in Canada. While the industry is mostly oriented toward the domestic market, the advent of e-commerce has increased the global trade of merchandises, making Canadian retailers more exposed to foreign competition, but also creating new market opportunities outside the country. The industry was negatively affected by the recession of 2008-2009, primarily reflecting anemic growth in consumer spending as a result of the substantial deterioration in domestic economic conditions. After declining in 2009, production and employment quickly recovered in 2010, and output continued to grow at a healthy pace during the following eight years, with the exception of a marginal decline in 2015, which coincided with slower economic growth in Canada resulting from the sharp fall in crude oil prices. On average, real GDP in the retail industry grew at an annual rate of 1.8% over the period 2009-2018, driven by solid growth in consumer spending as a result of improving labour market conditions, steady growth in disposable income, and low interest rates. Despite significant fluctuations over the last ten years, employment remained on a positive trajectory, with net growth averaging 0.4% annually. The modest pace of growth in employment means that most of the increase in output was achieved through productivity gains. New technologies, such as radio frequency identification devices, scheduling software, inventory management systems, self-serve kiosks and e-commerce have replaced many of the tracking, shipping and storage tasks traditionally performed by workers. The high degree of competition in the industry has forced many firms to close stores and reduced headcount to contain labour costs. Many previously well-established retail chains ceased operations, while several foreign-owned chains have expanded throughout Canada. Higher minimum wages have also encouraged firms to adopt new technologies and increase productivity to maintain their profit margins.

Over the period 2019-2028, output growth in retail trade is projected to weaken relative to the previous decade, primarily reflecting the adverse impact of demographic changes on consumer spending in Canada. Indeed, slower growth in the working-age population is expected to constrain overall employment growth in the longer term, while the aging of the population will result in massive retirements of baby-boomers from the labour market. These two factors are expected to contain the pace of growth in disposable income and consumer spending, including spending on durable, semi-durable and non-durable goods sold by retailers. Older households also tend to consume more services and slightly fewer goods, reducing the share of goods in total consumer spending as a result of population aging. High household debt levels and any potential increases in interest rates over the longer term horizon (in response to inflationary pressures resulting from a tighter labour market) are additional factors that could lower the pace of growth in consumer spending by reducing, for example, the affordability to purchase big-ticket items such as cars and household appliances.

On the positive side, high import prices resulting from a low currency should encourage Canadians, especially those living close to the U.S. border, to shop in Canada, supporting revenues in domestic retail stores. Changes in shopping patterns will continue to influence the outlook for retailers. As e-commerce expands, Canadian retailers are expected to face a surge in competition from global suppliers, but they are also expected to take advantage of new opportunities to expand their markets outside the country. Firms that sell goods abroad will also be in a favourable position as the value of the Canadian dollar is expected to remain low throughout the projection horizon. On average, real GDP in the industry is projected to increase by 1.4% annually over the period 2019-2028, compared to a modest 0.4% for employment. Again, productivity growth is expected to account for a large part of output growth as the shift to online shopping will continue to increase competition and reduce profit margins, forcing retailers to lower labour costs and embrace new productivity-enhancing technologies. Greater emphasis on self-serve kiosks and better point-of-sale technology are expected to limit hiring, especially for cashiers, but also for retail workers involved in sales, inventory and customer management.

Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Retail Trade

Figure showing the annual average growth rates of real GDP and employment over the periods 2009-2018 and 2019-2028 for the industry of retail trade. The data is shown on the table following this figure

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2019 COPS industrial projections.

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Retail Trade (%, annual average)
  Real GDP Employment
2009-2018 1.8 0.4
2019-2028 1.4 0.4

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2019 COPS industrial projections.


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