“The last two years was great for retailers because consumers were buying everything they had to offer,” Liza Amlani, founder of Retail Strategy Group, which works with brands on their merchandising and planning strategies. “They just can’t do that anymore. You have to understand what the consumer wants more now than ever.”

In July, U.S. retail sales were virtually unchanged, according to data from the Commerce Department released Wednesday. Excluding the sales of gas and cars, retail sales actually increased 0.7 percent. But 85 percent of U.S. consumers said that inflation is altering the way they shop, according to a survey released this week from Morning Consult.

Most retailers are hoping this pullback period is only temporary. In the meantime, companies are trying to signal to customers that it’s worth doing what spending they do in their stores. Kohl’s, for instance, said that its private-label brands outperformed the national ones it carries last quarter, and that shoppers gravitated toward buying more basic apparel that could be worn with many different outfits.

Retailers are also turning to the familiar strategy of discounting merchandise to entice shoppers to open their wallets. It’s one they didn’t have to deploy for most of the pandemic, when people showed they were willing to pay full price for a wide range of items. Target, Walmart and Ross Stores all said they have marked down goods in recent weeks. In turn, retailers like BJ’s Wholesale Club — even if they were content with their balance sheets — said they lowered prices on some categories in order to stay competitive. Robert Eddy, chief executive at BJ’s Wholesale Club, even said that the company was willing to “alter the scope and the depth of those promotions” for the holiday season.

The strategy of discounting might not actually get to the root cause, analysts say.

“There is a point at which lower prices don’t trigger incremental demand because the consumers already have it,” said Simeon Siegel, a managing director at BMO Capital Markets. “It’s not an indication that the company is dead. It’s not an indication that they’re never going to buy it again. They just need the time lag.”

Retailers need to realize that consumers are thinking differently, Mr. Siegel said. Some big-ticket purchases — like an exercise bike, living room couch or patio grill — will happen just once. In other cases, the amount of time between purchasing and replenishing will be longer. A person might now buy a candle every few months, compared to doing it every month in the early stages of the pandemic when they were home more often. And more people are choosing to spend their money on things like air travel and movie tickets this summer compared to last.

With all of these variables, lowering prices might not trigger the demand a retailer wants, Mr. Siegel said. It might simply just cut into a company’s profits.

For the stores that did see sales growth, like the big-box retailers Walmart and Target, most of that volume was attributed to higher food prices. Groceries have narrower margins than, say, a retailer’s private-label dress brand, and the shift in sales from one category to another affects the company’s overall profitability.

Along with pricing, retailers need to figure out how to deal with their inventory issues, especially with the all-important holiday season just a few months away.

“Getting through the inventory levels allows them to have a cleaner store, a cleaner supply chain,” said Bobby Griffin, equity research analyst at Raymond James. “They won’t be able to predict it perfectly, but getting through excess inventory will give them more flexibility to try to adapt to what the holiday is throwing at them.”

For all the challenges, some retailers saw a brighter path ahead. While inventory at TJX, the owner of the T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s chains, was up 39 percent for the quarter, the company said it was comfortable at that level because they had what shoppers actually wanted.

“They’re looking for an exciting treasure hunt, an entertaining shopping experience in stores,” Ernie Herrman, TJX’s chief executive, said in a call with analysts, “and along with that value equation, we continue to provide those two things.”

Isabella Simonetti contributed reporting.

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