The earnings miss Wednesday by highly regarded Macy's raised a red flag about what's to come from the slew of retailers set to report profits.
"As one of the top-performing and best-executing retailers in the industry, Macy's second-quarter earnings miss is an ominous early marker for retail that could portend further disappointing results over the coming weeks," said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics.
Macy's earlier cut its full-year same-store sales forecast, saying a 3.3 percent rise in second-quarter sales would not make up for weakness in the first quarter, when harsh winter weather kept shoppers away.
The department store said it expects same-store sales to increase 1.5 to 2 percent for the full year. It had earlier forecast an increase of 2.5 to 3 percent.
Despite the shortfall, Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe said the retailer "indicated that trends improved at both Macy's and Bloomingdale's in the second quarter, reflecting a rebound in shopping activity once the weather turned seasonable."
Wells Fargo analyst Paul Lejuez noted that Macy's miss was primarily due to weaker margins, driven by promotions, but said sales were still strong.
"Once all have reported, we don't think Macy's will seem so bad," he said. "After all, gross profit dollars increased showing that the company is at least driving sales with its promotions. Not all will be so fortunate."
Jaffe cautioned that rival department stores Kohl's and Nordstrom, both of which are set to report quarterly results on Thursday, likely experienced similar trends to Macy's—notably, some gross margin pressure.
Shares of Macy's were down more than 5 percent in early afternoon trading. (Click here to track its shares.)
The company's net income rose to $292 million, or 80 cents per share, in the three months ended Aug. 2 from $281 million, or 72 cents per share, a year earlier.
Sales rose to $6.3 billion from $6.1 billion, after declining about 2 percent in each of the last two quarters.
Despite cutting its comparable-store sales guidance, the retailer reiterated its full-year earnings guidance of between $4.40 and $4.50.
Macy's operates about 340 stores, including its high-end subsidiary Bloomingdale's, in the United States. The retailer plans to open a location in a mixed-use project in Hawaii by mid-2016, but closed two stores in the first quarter of 2014 and postponed renovation plans for a Brooklyn location.
It's also rolled out its buy online pickup in store initiative ahead of the fall and holiday shopping seasons.
JPMorgan analyst Matthew Boss said this focus on fusing online shopping and the in-store experience is the right formula.
"I think Macy's is your long-term winner in the department stores. They have the brands [and] they're spending money even during a choppy economic backdrop," he said.
The company's former chief merchandising officer, Jeffrey Gennette, became president in late March, while Starbucks executive Annie Young-Scrivner joined the board of directors in late June.
—CNBC.com with Reuters