Sales reported by both Barnes & Noble and the U.S. Census Bureau show just how weak the holiday shopping period was in 2002.

According to preliminary figures from B&N, fourth-quarter sales were sluggish, with growth driven by new superstores. The superstore division reported a 4% sales increase in the period, to $1.2 billion, offsetting a 20.7% drop at B. Dalton stores, to $88.9 million. The sales increase at the company's superstores was due entirely to new store openings, as comparable-store sales fell 3% in the period. Same-store sales at Dalton fell 11.4%. While sales rallied briefly around Christmas, they tailed off again in January. B&N reported that comparable-store sales at its superstores fell 3.8% in November, 2.6% in December and 3.2% in January. "January was another disappointing month," said B&N chief financial officer Larry Zilavy.

B&N's soft holiday report followed figures released by Borders Group that showed a fourth-quarter sales gain of 1.4%, to $1.22 billion (News, Feb. 17). Same-store sales at Borders's superstores declined 3% in the period, while comparable-store sales at Waldenbooks fell 6.1%.

For the full year ending February 1, sales at B&N's superstores rose 6.4% in the year, to $3.6 billion. Sales at B. Dalton fell 16.2%, to $260 million, which the company attributed to the closing of 47 outlets in 2002, as well as a 6.4% drop in comparable-store sales. The revenue gain in the superstore division was due solely to new store openings, as same-store sales were flat with the previous year. B&N had a net gain of 37 superstores in the year year.

The two major bookstore chains operated in a difficult retail environment over the holidays, particularly for bookstores. According to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, total bookstore sales fell 3.2% in this year's fourth quarter, to $4.42 billion. (The comparisons to chain sales is not a perfect one; the Census Bureau figures measure sales in the October—December period, while chain sales are for November—January.) Sales in December were off 1.7%, to $2.16 billion.

For the entire year, the Census Bureau reported that bookstore sales rose 1.5%, to $17 billion. Sales for the entire retail segment increased 3.3% in 2002.