August retail sales, as reported by StatsCan, indicate Canadian consumers spent 3.8% less in August compared to the  previous month, continuing a trend of softening sales after an initial strong rebound earlier this year.

The Health & Personal Care sector* posted even weaker sales: a 7.0% decrease compared with the prior month.  The August decline follows 3 consecutive months of increases from the low point in April 2020.

Among all categories, building material and garden equipment stores and food and beverage stores showed the strongest increases, whereas clothing stores were unchanged and sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores fell, as did home furnishings.

By region, H&PC retail sales were strongest in Atlantic Canada (+10.3%)  and British Columbia (+2.6%).  Ontario (-12.1%), Quebec (-5.2%) and Alberta (-6.1%) showed the weakest sales versus the prior month.

The same period report shows online sales also slowing down but still significant higher compared with the same period last year.

The Retail Council of Canada reports that the preliminary results for September 2020 also indicate sales softness.

* Source 
H&PC retail category is a broad swath of personal care retail operations that includes pharmacies and optical stores but excludes mass merchandisers and private optometry clinics.  The  H&PC retail category may not be an exact benchmark for individual practices.


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April 2020 retail sales report sent shock waves through almost every retail sector in Canada.  Since then the May and June results showed a buoyant bounce-back in most sectors.

The July 2020 StatsCan report of Canadian retail sales, however, show that the rate of the bounce-back has slowed considerably.

From the APRIL low of $43.6 M, May retail sales increased 35.8% and June increased 19.0% over May.

The July numbers,however, are a stark reminder that full recovery of economic activity may not yet be in the cards.  July retail sales reached $57.2 M a mere 1.7% increase over the prior month.

One positive to take from the July numbers is that sales posted 4.5% higher than July 2019.

Taking a sector-specific view July 2020 Canadian Health and Personal Care (H&PC)  retail sales show a similar trend to that of all retail sales.

June H&PC sales showed a strong bounce back of 10% from May, but the July sales rebound, while still positive, were up 1.5% compared to the prior month.

H&PC retail category is a broad swath of personal care retail operations that includes pharmacies and  optical stores but excludes mass merchandisers and private optometry clinics.  The  H&PC retail category might not be an exact benchmark for individual practices, but it is the closest proxy we can gather from the publicly available StatsCan reports.

While each of the sectors showed varying results, so do regional sales. Not all regions across the country shared equally in the positive numbers.

On the plus side, British Columbia and Quebec lead the way with +5.5% and +4.2% month over month sales growth respectively.

Ontario and Man-Sask showed declines of 1.3% and 2.6% respectively in July. will track H&PC sales as a information bookmark for Eye care Professionals.


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There is scant information on the havoc wreaked by COVID on retail optical and eye care sales in Canada.

Public companies must report their financials, and are therefore a potential source of some information.  Most, however,  are either in selective wholesale niche markets, such as contact lenses, frames or lenses which offer only broad directional signposts of market dynamics.

The supplier companies’ results reflect sales at the wholesale market level and are separated in time from the retail market.  Different sectors will vary on the impact of this time gap since retailers have the option to work down existing inventories where they can, e.g. frames.

Other suppliers’ sales, such as lenses, optical labs and contact lenses, more likely reflect consumer demand in real time.

We are a small player on the Global Scene
Another obstacle to gathering useful information is that the public corporations are almost exclusively multi-nationals. Canada-specific information is often hidden in the aggregate reporting of “North American” revenues.  Canada rarely warrants a reference in the global reporting from these companies.

So then, how are we to understand the Canadian market?  And, “How does an individual practice understand their performance relevant to competitors?”

Publicly Traded Optical Provides Some Insight
There is one insightful opportunity provided by the only publicly traded retail optical and eye care corporation in Canada, the New Look Group.

New Look, with its coast to coast network of banners, including IRIS, NEW LOOK, Vogue, Grieche and Scaff and others is not perfectly representative of the Canadian Market. It  is over-represented in BC, Quebec and the Maritimes, and underrepresented in other provinces, particularly Ontario.

While it is a far from a perfect benchmark for Canadian optical performance,  it is the best we have that is readily and publicly available.

So with these caveats in mind, let us see what story the numbers tell us.
The Q2 financial statements for the 3-month period ending June 27th,  reflects that most locations stopped operating in mid-March and started a gradual reopening in mid-May, with a complete reopening by June 21, the first day of summer.  Gradual reopening’s started in the first week of May. 

During this 3-month period, relative to the same period one year prior, revenues decreased by 64.9%. This decline primarily reflects COVID closures, but also includes scheduled store closures and offset by sales from newly acquired locations.

Even with its enviable financial resources and brand strengths, a  65% decline in quarterly sales is tough pill to swallow.

Nevertheless, in its Q2 statement, the company remains optimistic that it,”… has resumed its profitable growth journey, organic and external.”

Ultimately, consumer behaviour will determine the future course. Optical and eyecare practices taking the necessary and prudent steps to safe-guard associates and patients will significantly factor in, as will the responsibility we all have to protect each other to ward off a 2nd wave shut down.

We can only hope that New Look and all optical retailers continue to recover from the COVID catastrophe.


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