The 1980’s was a decade of great change for the U.S. and the retail companies that inhabited it. Counterculture was alive and well and fueled a new generation that craved status above all else. The economy was difficult and gave way to a stock market crash in 1987. Before that there was a boom that created new wealth and furthered the gap between the haves and have nots. The Cold War finally ended and what should have been blissful celebrations were replaced with a pause as America considered what would be next.

One major change in the 80’s was the emergence of shopping malls. Large scale malls saw a surge in popularity that led to aggressive expansion as these places became a gathering spot for young people in their bid to assert their independence. The “Me” generation took center stage in this decade and companies shifted their focus to help consumers discover this new sense of self. The benefactors of this newfound interest in shopping malls were apparel retailers that ranged from classic anchor stores like Macy’s and Dillard’s to smaller boutiques. The sleek and subdued fashion trends of the 50’s and 60’s was long gone and replaced by bombastic creations that emphasized color and styles that expressed individuality. Mall staples like Express, Aeropostale, and Guess were founded in this decade and leaned into the designer trend that had caught consumers’ attention. Designer fashions became more available to the public and were asserted as status symbols. Brands like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein grew in popularity and became fixtures in mall anchor stores.

While brick-and-mortar stores ruled the decade, we also saw the first steps into the more modern digital age. The proliferation of the television led to the widespread installation of cable T.V. By the end of the decade, nearly 60% of Americans had cable installed in their homes. There was a new way to target consumers and The Home Shopping Network (HSN) debuted in 1982 as The Home Shopping Club. What was once the dream of advertising directly to buyers through the television became the opportunity to sell directly to them on their sofa. The success of HSN led to the creation of their main rival QVC in 1983. This was also the decade that saw extensive growth in the home computer market, a medium that would eventually usurp television as a marketplace.

The search for individuality also extended to the restaurant industry as customers looked to separate themselves from the bars and fast food of the previous generation. Casual dining chains that featured bar service rose to prominence and brands like Applebee’s and Hooters were born. In place of fast-food we saw the beginning of modern fast-casual restaurants, restaurants that don’t offer table service but use premium ingredients at a higher price point than fast food. Panera got their start during this decade, and they also helped kick-off the health food trend that has evolved considerably in recent years. Despite these newcomers, traditional fast-food chains like McDonald’s and KFC did very well during the decade and as consumers’ lives grew more complex, fast food provided a much need comfort outlet.

The 1980’s were also the decade where Walmart established their superstar status as they made two key changes to their store portfolio. Walmart saw the success of wholesale clubs like Costco and copied the idea by founding Sam’s Club. They also branched out into supermarkets with the debut of their Walmart Supercenter. This pivotal moment would eventually lead to Walmart being the number one grocery provider in the U.S. and would cement their legacy as one of the most influential brands in the world.

The 1980’s proved that greatness could come from change. While many were looking to assert their identities, companies did the same and many of those identities are still prominent today. Buying directly from the T.V. and gathering at shopping malls are not as popular as they once were, yet there is a direct line from there to the way that we shop today. Join us next month when we look at the brands and trends that rang in the end of a millennia.