She added that while those remained pillars, “it is more about how do we create an experience in the store that is more entertainment-focused, that’s more food-focused, beauty-service-focused?” This month, for example, Barneys is set to open The High End, a marijuana-inspired concept store in Los Angeles that will sell products like rolling papers and glassware in a beautiful setting.
“There is a paradigm shift here in terms of that industry, and we want to be part of it,” Ms. Vitale said. “This was also about finding things that would appeal to a female consumer.”
Kevin McKenzie, chief digital officer of Macerich, described the company’s recently introduced BrandBox concept, which provides mall space for online retailers like the flower-delivery service UrbanStems, the mattress seller Nectar Sleep and the cosmetics company Winky Lux.
The spaces offer flexible leases and a new audience for brands that may not have any experience with physical retailing. A store can sometimes take six months to build out, but BrandBox can set up a store in as little as three weeks, Mr. McKenzie said.
“We thought a lot about not just the walls but the fixtures and all the different ways they could be used and configured,” he said. “It was basically a big Tetris game.”
As the various technological experiments showed, America’s oldest retailers are aware of how challenging the retail landscape remains.
When asked about her biggest fear, Ms. Foulkes of Hudson’s Bay said, “Our own inability to move fast enough.” Erik Nordstrom, a co-president of his family’s chain, said that while the company’s strategic choices and direction had been right, “we need to be more agile.”
And Art Peck, the chief executive of Gap Inc., which just spun off its Old Navy brand, closed his presentation with three words that he said the company’s founder, Don Fisher, used to say frequently: “Change or fail.”