CBA, the association of Christian retailers, has reported an 8.55% sales increase for its member stores in 2012, with increases every quarter of 2012 over 2011. Still, most Christian independents reported declines or flat sales year over year, with a few higher-performing stores pulling up the average. The data is contained in CBA’s 2013 State of the Industry Report and drawn from aggregated data from more than 600 of some 1,100 member stores collected by CBA’s CROSS:SCAN reporting system.

About 60% of CBA stores saw 2012 sales decline, with 7% seeing flat sales and the remaining 33% posting sales 7%-15% higher than in 2011. Black Friday sales recovered 22%, though Christmas sales were up only 1.6%. In a statement, CBA president Curtis Riskey said, “ The stores that reported sales increases are strong and connecting better with customers both through technology and compelling in-store experiences. They are adapting to selling e-books and deploying more digital marketing and customer interaction.”

Riskey also cited two “primary strategies,” discounting “or creatively defining retail space in terms of engagement and relationship.” He stressed, “It’s not just about price,” although publishers have told PW that extensive CBA store discounting is making the channel more challenging for them.

The top two product categories in CBA stores are books and Bibles, with 2012 book sales essentially flat and Bible sales increasing 2.05%. At press time, CBA had not provided digital sales data; CBA said Christian stores began selling e-books in 2012 and also moved “more strongly” into digital marketing. Backlist sales, always solid in the religion category, were robust throughout the year, the association reported.

The number of Christian retailers has fallen in recent years, hurt by increased competition from general retail channels as well as the stumbling economy. In 2012 there was a net loss of 39 stores, up from 22 stores closings in 2011 but down from 63 in 2010. The State of the Industry report said that the number of retailers reporting they would sell or close their stores in 2013 was down by half from 2012, from 7.7% to 2.5%. About 81% of reporting stores said they expected 2013 sales to be flat or better, with a projected sales increase of up to 2.1%.

The CROSS:SCAN reporting system, which uses POS data and provides participating stores with weekly reports, has been developed by CBA over the past six years. The 2013 State of the Industry Report marks the first time CROSS:SCAN data has been used “extensively,” CBA said. Usually released in March, this year the report was postponed due to “technical development of new CROSS:SCAN reporting tools and internal changes.” The next report is scheduled for March 2014 release.

Riskey will offer more details on the report’s results and projections for 2013 at a June 24 press conference at the upcoming International Christian Retail Show, meeting June 23-26 in St. Louis, Mo.