Total sales fell 4.5% at Barnes & Noble in the second quarter ended Oct. 31, 2015, compared to the same period last year. The net loss at the retailer from continuing operations rose to $27.2 million, from $5.1 million. Results in 2015 include a $10.5 million executive severance charge associated with the spinoff of the college division. The EBITDA loss, which includes the severance charge, was $20.5 million compared to $12.2 million in last year’s second quarter. Revenue fell to $894.6 million, from $936.5 million.
Revenue was down across the board. Sales in the retail segment, which includes the stores and BN.com, fell 3.1%, to $860.7 million. The company attributed the drop to lower online sales, store closures, and a 1% decline in comparable store sales. Even comp sales that exclude Nook products—which rose 1% in the first quarter—fell 0.5% in this period. EBITDA in the segment was only $784,000, compared to $24.2 million a year ago. Lower sales of adult trade and juvenile books were somewhat offset by higher sales of coloring books and related supplies. Sales in the games and toys segment rose 14.9%.
In a conference call discussing results, CEO Ron Boire put a fair amount of the blame for the weak retail performance on the poor results at BN.com. B&N acknowledged at the end of the first quarter that is was having some issues with the revamped website, but attributed it mainly to startup issues. In Thursday evening's call, Boire admitted that the challenges with the website were greater than expected, resulting in lower customer traffic and lower "conversions." The company instituted a number of "fixes" in the quarter which have stabilized the site and customer traffic has improved, Boire said. However a more extensive upgrade of the site will wait until after the holiday season. Problems with BN.com also delayed B&N's efforts to cut costs by integrating some of Nook's operations into the retail business, something that will be put off into the second half of fiscal 2016 (which ends April 30) and the early part of 2017, Boire said.
Sales in the Nook division were much worse than at retail, as revenue dropped 31.9% to $43.5 million. Sales of digital content fell 29.8%, to about $31 million and hardware sales dropped by about 30% to only $12 million in the quarter. B&N was able to cut the EBITDA loss in the quarter to $21.3 million, from $36.4 million, but Boire said the losses ($39 million in the first half of fiscal 2016) at Nook are "unacceptable" and promised to continue to cut costs in the division.
Despite the rough performance, B&N expressed some confidence about the future. Sales in November, benefitting from an improved website, showed improvement and comparable store sales--excluding Nook products--through Black Friday were up 1.1%. Because of an improving retail environment for books, Boire said, B&N expects to close only 10 stores in fiscal 2016, down from the 13 it had earlier expected to shut. Boire also said that the retailer is working on a new prototype for stores that it will discuss at a later date.
Looking at the remainder of fiscal 2016, the company said it expects comp store sales to be flat with fiscal 2015, but that comp sales excluding Nook will rise 1% for the year. B&N also expects Nook losses to be lower.