Nordstrom could not escape the woes bedeviling the apparel retail sector as the company reported first-quarter earnings far below Wall Street expectations.

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Nordstrom could not escape the woes bedeviling the apparel retail sector as the company reported first-quarter profit far below both last year’s level and Wall Street’s expectations.

The company Thursday said profit for the quarter was $46 million, down 64 percent from $128 million a year ago, while revenues were barely ahead of last year’s first quarter. Nordstrom attributed the profit plunge to lower-than-expected sales volume and higher markdowns.

A major source of the sales falloff was in Nordstrom’s pride and joy: its full-line brick-and-mortar stores. Sales at Nordstrom’s stores open at least a year dropped 7.7 percent compared with a year ago. Its off-price Nordstrom Rack stores held up better, with sales dropping just 0.8 percent.

“I thought the results would be soft because we’ve seen softness in the last quarters,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of retail-research firm Conlumino. “The acceleration of the decline is surprising. The slip is quite strong.”

For the first time in 25 quarters, “overall underlying sales have entered negative territory: It was back in 2009, during the depths of the recession, that they last turned red,” Saunders wrote in a research note.

Nordstrom’s dismal quarter underscored the woes that apparel retailers, and mall stores more generally, are going through.

Kohl’s on Thursday reported a drop in sales and also failed to meet Wall Street forecasts. Macy’s on Wednesday reported grim first-quarter numbers. Gap on Monday posted its fifth straight quarterly sales decline and profit that fell below expectations.

Fierce online competition, a decline in mall traffic and other demands for consumers’ dollars are eating away at the apparel industry.

“Apparel retail growth is likely not to return to historic levels,” Bridget Weishaar, equity analyst with Morningstar, said in a note to investors earlier this week about Nordstrom, in which she talked about the retail industry as a whole.

People are spending their money on experiences such as travel and restaurants, rather than clothes, and the rising costs of health care, education and housing are shrinking the amount of money they have left to spend, she said.

Nordstrom’s total revenue for the quarter was $3.25 billion, up nearly 1 percent from $3.22 billion this quarter last year. But it still fell below analysts’ expectation of $3.28 billion.

The company’s earnings per share of 26 cents fell far below Wall Street expectations of 46 cents per share.

Nordstrom also lowered its outlook for the year, from last quarter’s guidance of $3.10 to $3.55 earnings per share, to $2.50 to $2.70.

The company’s stock was pummeled, dropping 17 percent, to $37.50 — a new 52-week low — in after-hours trading after release of the results.

If it opens at that price Friday morning, it will be the lowest price Nordstrom stock has traded at in nearly five years, since August 2011, according to Nasdaq data. (Update: Nordstrom shares were down 15.3 percent, or $6.92, at $38.31 in early trading Friday.)

The falloff in sales at Nordstrom’s brick-and-mortar stores can also be tied to the drop in mall traffic in general, said Jamie Nordstrom, president of stores, in a conference call with analysts Thursday.

“It’s been pretty well documented out there that mall traffic overall has been soft over the last couple quarters,” he said. “We’ve seen some data over the last month or two, it was down approaching double digits. We noticed that. We’re primarily in malls. When we see mall traffic go down, it hurts us.”

To combat that, Nordstrom executives said the company is focusing on several initiatives while also reducing expenses.

It plans to expand its loyalty program to allow customers without a Nordstrom credit card to earn rewards, which could add 5 million customers to the program.

The company plans to roll out its expanded loyalty program May 18, aiming to capture the one-fifth of Nordstrom customers who are not now part of its loyalty program, Blake Nordstrom, company co-president, said during the conference call. Those one in five customers’ purchases represent 40 percent of Nordstrom’s sales.

Loyalty-program members spend four times as much, and make four times as many trips, as nonmembers, company executives said.

“This will drive more sales and trips and, more importantly, it will enable us to better engage with our customers,” Blake Nordstrom said.

The company also plans to focus more on limited-distribution collaborations with brands including Madewell, Topshop and Brandy Melville — partnerships that have gained traction among shoppers.

Those are good moves to try to address the underlying issues of people simply not going to stores and shopping, said Conlumino’s Saunders.

Nordstrom also plans to focus more on key brands in its online stores, while cutting out less-profitable items, Mike Koppel, chief financial officer, said during Thursday’s conference call.

In addition, Nordstrom is looking at cost-cutting measures, including a previously announced cut of some 400 positions, mainly from its Seattle corporate headquarters. That move is expected to save the company about $60 million.

In total, the company is looking to cut about $150 million in expenses, including the layoffs, Koppel said.

It’s also reviewing its $4 billion five-year capital plan, aiming to reduce that amount, he added.

Despite a layoff earlier this year of about 130 tech staffers, Koppel said the company is committed to its technology efforts: “The e-commerce element continues to grow at a good pace.”

Indeed, Nordstrom’s online stores fared better than its brick-and-mortar counterparts, with sales rising 3.1 percent for Nordstrom.com and 41.8 percent for Nordstromrack.com and HauteLook.

Nordstrom’s latest results came on top of several quarters in a row of disheartening news.

Its shares plunged 20 percent last November after the company reported third-quarter results far below analysts’ expectations and cut its outlook for the year. Its fourth-quarter results showed improvement but still came in below Wall Street forecasts.