Gains were reported in seven of the 11 sectors the agency tracks, but sales of vehicles and automotive parts led the way with a 2.5 per cent gain.
An all-time record of 197,740 units were sold during the month.
A 4.7 per cent increase in the sale of "other vehicles" (which to Statistics Canada means RVs, motorcycles and boats) offset declines in the previous two months.
Used-car dealers also saw a three per cent sales increase, as did tire stores, at 1.7 per cent. Sales at gas stations increased by two per cent in the month, the seventh straight monthly gain.
Home furnishings also did well, up 3.7 per cent, the fourth gain in the past five months.
"The issue is that aside from cars and home-related items, Canadians were not buying much else at least in May," Scotiabank economists said in a research note following the release of the data.
As an example of that, two of the retail sectors that shrank were food and beverages. Sales at grocery stores declined by 1.6 per cent during the month, while sales of beer and liquor were off by even more — down 2.5 per cent.
Sales at electronics stores declined by 1.7 per cent, after four straight monthly gains.
Across the country, sales were higher in nine provinces, but gains in Ontario, Quebec and, to a lesser extent, New Brunswick accounted for most of the increase, Statistics Canada said.
Sales in British Columbia shrank by only 0.1 per cent.