BMO economist Benjamin Reitzes says the figures suggest "consumers remain cautious as job and wage growth continue to be lacklustre."
Statistics Canada reports that gains were reported in six of 11 subsectors, representing 56 per cent of total retail trade.
Higher sales at food and beverage stores in August were partially offset by weaker sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers and gasoline stations.
Sales at food and beverage stores were up 1.2 per cent.
Sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers slipped 0.5 per cent, while sales at gasoline stations declined 0.8 per cent, partially reflecting lower prices at the pump.
Retail sales rose in six provinces in August, largely led by higher sales in Ontario and British Columbia.
Reitzes says that the small gain in retail sales volume, combined with previously announced figures for manufacturing and wholesale sales, suggest Canada's gross domestic product grew 0.2 per cent in August.
That would be consistent with BMO's estimate of two per cent annualized growth in the third quarter ended Sept. 30.