Sales in Barnes & Noble Education’s retail division, by far the company’s largest operating group, showed some improvement in the final quarter of fiscal 2021 ended May 1, 2021, but sales still fell 13% compared to the final quarter of fiscal 2020. The fourth-quarter decline was less than the segment posted for the full year, in which retail revenue fell 22.5% from fiscal 2020. Sales in the retail segment, comprised of 1,417 physical and virtual stores, were $1.33 billion for the year.

The smaller sales decline in the fourth quarter compared to the full year was due to improvement in general merchandise sales, where comparable store sales rose 9.6%, somewhat blunting the 17.9% decline in comparable store sales of course materials. For the full fiscal year, however, comp sales of general merchandise plunged 45.9%. This was mostly due, B&NE said, “to fewer students on campus, curtailed campus activities, and significant restrictions on attendance at sporting events.” Comp sales of course materials fell 15.2% for fiscal 2021. (Comp sales of trade books fell 64.3% in the year, B&NE reported).

B&NE ended fiscal 2021 with a net loss of two stores compared to fiscal 2020, operating 769 physical outlets and 648 virtual stores.

Sales in the company’s Digital Solutions Service division rose 15.7% in the year, to $27.3 million. An increase in subscriptions to its bartleby direct-to-student service, which now has more than 300,000 subscribers, precipitated much of this increase.

Full year sales in the company's wholesale division declined 16.4%, to $165.8 million.

B&NE finished fiscal 2021 with a net loss of $131.8 million, up from a loss of $38.3 million in fiscal 2020. The company had an adjusted EBITDA loss of $65.6 million in fiscal 2021, compared to adjusted EBITDA of $42.2 million in the prior year. Total sales for the year declined 22.5%, to $1.43 billion.

Looking ahead, B&NE said that while it is difficult to predict financial results because of the uncertainty caused by Covid-19, it expects the company to have positive adjusted EBITDA in fiscal year 2022, as most schools return to a traditional on-campus environment for learning and sporting activities. B&NE hopes that adjusted EBITDA will approach annual pre-Covid levels in fiscal year 2023.