Talbots (NYSE:TLB) may have reported the lukewarm news that it has found a buyer for its J. Jill unit, but its first-quarter results show a retailer that’s still struggling to turn its business around in an ugly consumer spending environment.

Talbots' first-quarter net loss came in at $18.8 million, or $0.35 per share. Those figures included restructuring and impairment costs of $6.4 million, or $0.12 per share, and a tax benefit of $0.20 per share. Last year this time, Talbots reported net income of $18.5 million, or $0.35 per share.

Total sales dropped 26.2%, to $306.2 million, and comps plunged by 26.9%. Those are pretty steep drops, and while Talbots is not exactly alone in the retail universe in reporting declines, they underline the company’s challenges going forward.

Talbots announced more plans to reduce costs, including a further elimination of 20% of its corporate headcount, and it said that this takes its annualized cost reductions to $125 million, from the $100 million it announced in April. It also gave second-quarter guidance for a loss of $0.50 to $0.58 per share. 

In the most recent quarter, many retailers have been able to report “better-than-expected” results, which is not to say good results. It’s tough out there, and the death grip that consumers have on their wallets is translating into lower customer traffic and sales. Retailers such as Gap (NYSE:GPS), Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI), and Target (NYSE:TGT) have followed this general theme, where things aren’t exactly great, but at least they’re better than the scenarios that analysts expected.

I know many fans of Talbots stock get frustrated with my negative opinion, and while the retailer faces what I perceive as an uphill battle, sure, perhaps it will prevail despite an ugly environment and a competitive landscape that was pretty cutthroat even before consumers felt so dismal about their budgets.

Talbots hasn’t reported an increase in annual profit since the fiscal year ended January 2002. So I am a little confused why investors would bet on this and other companies that have long needed to achieve serious turnarounds instead of looking for retail stocks that are outliers. For example, The Buckle (NYSE:BKE) and Aeropostale (NYSE:ARO) both have been doing remarkably well, business-wise, for quite some time now, and deserve serious consideration by investors.

Talbots’ shares are up 90% in just six months, with little sign of operational improvement, as far as I can tell; in fact, the stock had been up as much as 8% today. All I can say is good luck to those investing in it -- there are stronger stocks out there for the long haul.

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Alyce Lomax owns shares of Whole Foods Market. The Fool has a disclosure policy.