By the 2000’s, the fear of Y2k had passed and companies who had bet on the internet began to see their investment pay off. Before the decade could even begin, the U.S. was hit by the 2001 September 11th terrorist attack. Normal business for many people and companies came to a halt as the nation mourned the losses. Some companies, like airports, were forever changed and the wars in Afghanistan that followed would economically shape the decade. The 2000’s also brought new choices for consumers as the prevalence of e-commerce presented the first viable alternative to brick-and-mortar.

The modern model of e-commerce is an expansion of what companies put together in the 2000’s. The ability to shop a wider range of products and get items shipped straight to your door went from a novelty to a major area of interest for consumers. Computers became more affordable, and more Americans were using the internet regularly. This was also the time in which social media gained popularity and advertisers realized they were sitting on a goldmine. Social media and e-commerce gave advertisers direct access to consumers and provided personal information that could never have been achieved by billboards or TV spots of the past. Businesses would not truly begin to capitalize on these new opportunities until the following decade, yet the 2000’s was a prototype of where we would go.

Despite the growing interest in e-commerce, brick-and-mortar stores saw the decade as a chance to build on the 90’s success and expansion became their goal. In the early part of the 2000’s, malls played an important role as a cultural center and stores like Forever 21 ran with their newfound popularity and expanded aggressively. By the time the recession hit at the end of the decade, many companies realized they had spread themselves too thin and could no longer afford the skyrocketing rent at major malls. The importance of malls was bolstered by technological advancements and the use of the internet as a commerce tool. Self-service kiosks provided a way for smaller companies to get in on mall popularity while also getting consumers into their e-commerce ecosystem. Retailers began building their modern omnichannel experience by directing shoppers to their websites for items that were difficult to keep stocked in stores.

Expansion was also top of mind for the restaurant industry as behemoths like Subway, McDonalds, and Burker King continued to grow both domestically and internationally. Newcomers found their foothold in the industry by tapping into consumer desires for more premium products that could still be served quickly. Companies like Moe’s and Smashburger opened and others like Chipotle found renewed interest as drive thru alternatives. The emergence of these chains bridged the gap between traditional fast-food and causal dining experiences. The popularity of the new “fast-casual dining” has only grown since the 2000’s with new specialty chains popping up every year.

It would be impossible to talk about the emergence of e-commerce without touching on the role Amazon played in its development. The company’s decision to expand quickly was bold and their decision to move the product line beyond books and music disrupted the entire retail industry. Amazon emerged as a true contender against retail stores. They showed other chains a successful blueprint for online sales and that consumers were willing to shop outside of traditional methods.

The 2000’s began with financial success that fueled expansion and ended with a recession that forced companies to re-evaluate their future. The increased use of the internet and social media alongside the viability of e-commerce transformed the way companies would look at expansion. Being in every mall in America was replaced by being on every smartphone. Join us next month as we end our series with retailers that staked their claim in the 2010’s.