COVID Consumer Spending Tracker

Sep 21, 2020 | Colin Guldimann


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Many Canadians continued to do routine shopping online, perhaps because of headlines about rising case counts. Back-to-school shopping seemed to exert a less powerful force than in previous years.

The usual tracker charts, unadjusted for Labour Day impacts, are included below.

The timing of Labour Day distorted our year-over-year analysis in early September, but some trends were still clear. Many Canadians continued to do routine shopping online, perhaps because of headlines about rising case counts. Back-to-school shopping seemed to exert a less powerful force than in previous years.



Back-to-school spending still happened

  • Monthly data through August suggest Canadians still prepared themselves and their children for the return to school, even as the debate over online versus in-person instruction raged.
  • Spending at clothing stores continued to recover.
  • Electronics spending also increased month over month, albeit at a more modest pace after being remarkably strong most of the year.

 




But was less robust than last year

  • Altogether, back-to-school spending was weaker than normal, with year-over-year changes in school-related categories slowing relative to gains earlier this year.
  • Despite historically strong spending, there was little evidence of a back to school bump in software and electronics, suggesting many of the purchases that may have otherwise occurred at this time of year were done earlier in the pandemic. Higher online spending could be here to stay.
  • Some categories continue to see persistent shifts towards online spending, though remote spending was lower than at the height of lockdown in many areas.
  • However, online grocery spending has continued to grow through the pandemic, accounting for more than a third of grocery transactions by value in early September, up from about 25% in May.
  • Consumers may be shifting away from routine shopping trips in favour of delivery.

 



‡ Methodology

RBC’s consumer spending tracking report uses RBC Data & Analytics’ proprietary database of anonymized card transactions by Canadian clients. The data are an accounting of merchant transactions that are divided into various spending categories covering tens of millions of weekly card transactions worth billions of dollars each week. Transactions, both in person and online, are classified into 11 broad spending groups: Dining, Education, Finances, Groceries, Health, Household, Shopping, Transport, Travel, Utilities, and Other. Within each group, the data are further classified: for example, shopping covers merchants classified as clothing stores, hobby shops, electronics stores, and jewellers, among others.

We examined changes in the value of all transactions in these areas for 7-day periods starting January 1st, comparing spending to the same period one year ago. To examine the impact of important events, we looked at how spending changed on specific days, both on a daily basis and on an annualized basis relative to that same weekday a year ago.

Online spending volumes are estimated based on the presence of an RBC card at the time of the authorization. Pre-COVID averages are calculated as the average of the first 11 weeks of 2020, and post-COVID averages are averages of subsequent weeks.

Protecting your privacy and safeguarding your personal information is a cornerstone of our organizational ethics and values and will always be one of our highest priorities. The underlying data for this analysis was aggregated based on transaction date, region and merchant category, and cannot be used to identify any individual client or merchant. For additional information please visit www.rbc.com/privacy.

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Economy