The department stores haven't been doing well this quarter,and that's weighing on Nordstrom (JWN) - Get Report  shares Thursday.

Shares opened lower by about 2% as investors gear up for the company's third-quarter earnings report, due after the stock markets close Thursday. Shares have since rallied back to flat.

The only problem, though? The retail space has been getting crushed. Macy's (M) - Get Report and Kohl's (KSS) - Get Report , two closer comps for Nordstrom, have been hit hard this week after disappointing results. Short of Target (TGT) - Get Report and Lowe's (LOW) - Get Report , there hasn't be a lot of bright spots in the sector.

On the plus side, expectations have to be cratering for Nordstrom's results. Where does that leave the stock trading ahead of earnings and what are the must-know levels once the numbers are out?

Let's look at the charts.

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Trading Nordstrom Stock

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You can see the expectations deflate for Nordstrom stock as the share price tanks into the print. On Monday, shares hit a high just north of $38. At its lows on Thursday, shares were down 14% from this week's high.

On the plus side for bulls, JWN stock is holding up over the $32 mark and the 100-day moving average. On the downside, it's below the 50-day and 200-day moving averages.

With expectations down, Nordstrom stock may be a tempting buy. Then again, Macy's stock was down into the print -- thanks to a data breach disclosed earlier in the week -- and that didn't help it very much after it reported.

So what do we do with Nordstrom? Let's wait for some clarity.

If the stock reacts bullishly to the company's quarterly report, reclaiming $36 would be attractive for bulls. That would put it above both the 50-day and 200-day moving averages, as well as the gap from back in May.

While this gap has been filled previously, the area between $34 and $36 has been notable. Clearing it would give bulls room to run to $38, which has been resistance over the past two months. Above that is the 50% retracement at $38.70. Clearing that area opens the door to a potential run at $42.

On the downside, watch the 100-day moving average. Below it puts the $78.6% retracement at $30.72 on the table. Below the $30 mark, and the $28 area is technically possible.

Stay open-minded and take Nordstrom stock one level at a time.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author had no positions in the stocks mentioned.