Leading department store chiefs have outlined plans to focus on differentiation from competitors, local-level retailing and nurturing talent to ride out the downturn.

At the Global Department Store Summit in London last week, retailers said they will cut costs and invest in people and technology so they are ready for when the economy bounces back.

Andrew Jennings, managing director of South African retailer Woolworths, maintained the need to differentiate has “never been more compelling than today”.

He added: “We should acknowledge that our market may be changing faster than we realise. Complacency is a killer.

“It is essential that our market champions new talent.”

Macy’s group president and chief executive Terry Lundgren said: “It is the most important time to think about where we want to be when the shopper comes back and starts shopping again. Now is the time to look back and ask: ‘What can we live without?’. ”

Lundgren said it was also a time “to embrace newness” and make the right kind of investments. The US retailer has launched My Macy’s, a strategy to focus resources at ground level at more than 200 of its 850 shops.

Caryn Lerner, president and chief executive of Canadian retailer Holt Renfrew, said the business has been forced to go “back to basics and get a lot more detailed”.