Toronto’s Retail sector is a vital part of the economy, employing 316,560 people, with almost half of the workforce living in Toronto.

The significant retail subsectors by number of jobs in Toronto are:  food and beverage stores, clothing and clothing accessories stores, and general merchandise stores (department stores, warehouse clubs and superstores). Chain stores dominate these subsectors since over the past several years the share of the retail market has shifted steadily toward chain stores.

Toronto has access to a very large regional market of over 6 million people, which is matched in size and concentration by only three other urban centres in North America. This is an affluent and cosmopolitan market that’s open to innovation.

The retail sector has invested heavily in organizational, process, marketing and service innovations to drive its productivity growth. Therefore, the sector requires a diverse and complex set of skills. Skills needed in the retail sector include: operational skills that are required to deliver specific services; tactical or specialist skills that are cross-functional; and skills such as project management needed to foster a culture of innovation. The skills development focus for those employed in operational roles (70% of the retail workforce) is oriented toward customer service, merchandising, product safety, material handling, order management, and sustainability. Meanwhile, the remaining 30% of the workforce (tactical or management roles) require a different focus toward skills development, such as knowledge in multi-channel retailing, international retail markets and culture, store design and planning, productivity, logistics management, relationship marketing, and the buying process.  

Over the past few years, retail has become a deliberate career choice for many people. It provides variety of career experiences in sales, management, buying and merchandising, marketing, human resources, business development, store design and planning, as well as logistics, finances and accounting, information management, franchising, etc. It also offers job convenience and flexibility.

It has twice the rate of part-time employment compared to all industries, 31,1% compared to 15,9%

Three categories of stores, Grocery Stores, Clothing stores and Department Stores which together make up less than 40% of all retail employment account for 50 % of all part-time work in the sector.

The Retail industry has a high proportion of immigrants across all periods of arrival in Canada. This appears to be the case with respect to Specialty Food Stores as the myriad of ethnic groups living in Toronto CMA means that there is a ready market for speciality products made locally, as well as jewellery, luggage, leather goods stores and gasoline supply.

Labour Force

In 2010, approximately 131,056 Toronto residents worked in retail. 65 % of the entire workforce work for small to medium sized companies that dominate the sector.

The number of women involved in retail is quite high-56.5%, which is 5% higher than 15 years ago. But there is a great variation in the gender mix by individual store categories: over 75% of employees among clothing stores and florists are females, while among vending machine operators, automobile parts, accessories and tire stores, over 75% of employees are males.

Age profile 

There is little difference between the age profile of the labour force for the retail sector and that of the entire labour force. But there is great variation in the age mix by individual store categories: 15-24 year olds make up over 40% of the labour force in shoe stores, lawn and garden equipment and supplies Stores, Clothing Stores, Grocery Stores and Sporting Stores, Hobby and Musical Instrument Stores. Workers aged 45 years and older make up 40% of the labour force among vending Machine Operators, used Merchandise Stores, Jewellery, Luggage and Leather Goods Stores and Automotive Parts, Accessories and Tire Stores.

Educational attainment 

According to the Toronto industry profile of 2010, the level of educational attainment of workers in this sector falls below that of the labour force as a whole. Only 22% of workers hold a university degree. Over sixty percent (66%) of the Toronto CMA workforce are either high school graduates or hold some diploma or certificate.

Key facts 
  • Retail is a fast-paced, energetic industry with a wide variety of growth opportunities.
  • Retail is one of the most diverse industries in the Toronto CMA.
  • In Canada, retail sales were $425.3 billion in 2008, following gains of 5.8% in 2007 and 6.4% in 2006.
  • The retail sector is one of the largest employers in the Toronto CMA, employing 1 out of 10 people.
  • The Fashion retail sector is a significant contributor to Toronto’s economy. More than 4,600 Toronto fashion retail stores generate annual sales of $2.6 billion. 
  • Retailing experience is a highly transferable skill.