Hey Big Spender: B.C.'s Changing but Vibrant Retail Sector

December 19, 2019
Ken Peacock

2-Minute Brief

Our review of industry statistics suggests that despite weak employment growth, the retail sector is vibrant. The data does not show a picture of an industry in decline, rather one that has become more productive in recent years. Here’s why.

British Columbians like to spend, which in turn drives our provincial economy. This year alone, B.C. households will spend a projected $87 billion in the province’s retail outlets.

The period spanning 2014 to 2017 saw strong growth, with retail sales surging by more than 9% annually at the peak. Over the past two years, however, sales growth slowed dramatically and this year, are on track to advance by an anemic 1.9%.

In 2018, on a per person basis B.C. had the second highest level of total spending, behind Alberta. Albertans, however, spend far more on vehicles. If spending on autos and gasoline is excluded from the total, British Columbia claims top spot for per capita retail spending this year (2019).

The sector has posted relatively strong growth in real output. The sector’s GDP has grown by an average rate of 3.3% over the past five years, ahead of the comparable 3.1% for the overall economy.

While e-commerce continues to grow rapidly, it accounts for a relatively small share of overall retail spending. According to Statistics Canada, e-commerce represents approximately 2.8% of all retail spending in the country.

With the advent of new technologies, employment growth in the retail space has slowed notably. Still the sector is one of the largest employers in the province, and provides a diverse array of occupations from entry level to executive for nearly 300,000 British Columbians.

Investment in labour-saving technology has lifted productivity in the sector at a rate that approaches twice as fast as the overall economy.


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