Coldwater Creek (NASDAQ:CWTR) was like a blast of winter today -- last I checked, its shares were down more than 25%. However, I'm beginning to wonder if it's just another poster child for a beleaguered retail niche.   

It hasn't been that long since Coldwater Creek was a premium stock, but it has weakened recently, and today it said not only will it post a third-quarter loss, but its fourth-quarter results will only break even. It blamed a perfect storm of negativity -- an increasingly promotional environment and declining customer traffic.  

It's not alone, though. Many of the retailers that seek to draw mature female shoppers are hurting. I've long been a Talbots (NYSE:TLB) bear -- and Talbots' difficulties have been dragging on for years now, no matter how hard it tries.

Look at Chico's (NYSE:CHS), whose woes started in 2006; yesterday, its same-store sales dropped 8.3% -- and today, investors brought the stock down 8% after it was downgraded.

Ann Taylor's (NYSE:ANN) September comps were better than expected, but that's not saying much. Its same-store sales squeaked up 0.5% in September, and while that bested analysts' expectations, it's not a clear mandate for optimism. However, the company did recently make some changes to help get itself on the right track.

It's easy to imagine that Coldwater Creek and Chico's might be deep bargains after this kind of carnage. Coldwater Creek is down 73% in the last 12 months. Chico's is down 40% in that same period -- and it was already pretty beaten down this time last year. I used to tend to think Chico's could turn itself around, but things are dragging on an awfully long time. But the thing that's really bugging me is that all these companies seem to be having a heck of a time drawing their customers -- the problems seem to be not only continuing, but spreading.

So are retailers really wrecked from the housing market, and these older, more conservative shoppers are feeling the pinch (not to mention fears of recession)? Or is it worse -- have these retailers completely lost sight of what their customers want, leaving these disenfranchised females furiously shopping for other options? Every retailer occasionally delivers a fashion miss, but I'm beginning to wonder if ongoing troubles signal they're missing massive demographic shifts in taste and preference. Investors need clear-cut signs these retailers are getting their acts together -- and that their customers are coming back with wallets open -- before jumping in.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.