* Macy's, Kohl's sales fall more than expected
* Inventory levels up at Macy's, Nordstrom, down at Kohl's
* Kohl's and Nordstrom's adj. EPS top Street, Macy's misses
* Macy's shares hit 6-yr low in regular trade, weigh on rivals (Adds Nordstrom's earnings; updates shares)
May 11 (Reuters) - Nordstrom Inc on Thursday became the latest department store operator after Macy's and Kohl's to report weaker-than-expected quarterly same-store sales, underscoring the industry's struggle to attract customers amid a slump in demand for apparel and a shift to shopping online.
Nordstrom's shares, which closed down 7.6 percent at $46.21 in regular trading, fell nearly 4 percent after the bell on Thursday.
Department stores are struggling with declining mall traffic as well as tough competition from online retailers and off-price stores. They have tried to cope by cutting costs through store closures, managing inventory better and squeezing more out of their real estate.
Nordstrom reported a 0.8 percent decline in its comparable-store sales for the first quarter ended April 29, compared with flat sales expected by analysts polled by research firm Consensus Metrix.
The first-quarter reports from Macy's Inc and Kohl's Corp were the first by department store operators and the disappointing sales numbers weighed on the sector.
Macy's shares fell as much as 17.4 percent during regular trading to levels last seen in 2011. Kohl's shares initially rose after the company's profit topped expectations, but soon reversed course and closed down nearly 8 percent.
Shares of J.C. Penney Co Inc, which reports results on Friday, also closed 7.4 percent lower.
Macy's net sales declined for the ninth straight quarter, while Kohl's sales dropped for the fifth quarter in a row. Even sales at the retailers' stores open for at least a year tumbled much more than analysts were expecting in the February-April quarter.
However, Nordstrom's first-quarter sales managed to edge past analysts' average estimate.
Macy's inventory was up 4.2 percent, which in part led to a bigger-than-expected drop in its profit. In contrast, Kohl's inventory dropped 2.3 percent, helping the company's profit beat analysts' expectations.
Nordstrom's inventory jumped 1.6 percent.
Macy's said it expects sales trends to improve from the current quarter, helped by the store closures, changes to its promotional marketing and a revamp and expansion of product lines in categories such as beauty, jewelry and furniture and mattresses.
But analysts were skeptical.
"We view these initiatives positively, however they are not enough to offset the challenging environment and changing consumer shopping habits," Jefferies analyst Randal Konik said in a note.
Kohl's efforts to speed up its supply chain, stock stores to suit local tastes, and use in-store merchandise to fill online orders helped keep inventories low and boost margins, Chief Executive Kevin Mansell said on a conference call.
That helped Kohl's profit of 39 cents per share easily beat analysts' estimate of 29 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
However, sales at the retailer's stores open at least a year fell 2.7 percent, much steeper than the 1.1 percent drop analysts polled by research firm Consensus Metrix had expected.
Macy's same-stores sales, including sales in departments licensed to third parties, fell 4.6 percent, also steeper than the 3.5 percent drop analysts has expected.
As a result, the company's profit sank 39 percent to $71 million. Macy's earned 24 cents per share on an adjusted basis, well below the 35 cents analysts on average had expected.
Macy's net sales fell 7.5 percent to $5.34 billion, missing the average analyst estimate of $5.47 billion. (Reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Gayathree Ganesan; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Maju Samuel)