Why did it used to take forever to get a product delivered?

Now days, even if one uses a money order or check to buy something, most items get delivered in a week to 10 days.

Years back (60’s-70’s) it took forever. When something was advertised on TV they would even say “please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery”. Sometimes it was 8-10 weeks.


True story: in 1979 I ordered a tee-shirt out of a magazine for a girl I liked. By the time it got delivered we had dated, gotten engaged, and were married. It got delivered to my parents house in 1980!

Even stuff from the Sears or JCPenny catalogs used to take a zillion years to come.

What was up with that?

Well, when I break it down, there are three essential components to the timeline. They need to process your order (including verifying your payment and what you want,) they need to find the item in a warehouse (assuming it doesn’t need to be custom-made,) and they need to get it to you.

I can think of a lot of places in those components where things could take a while without the computer infrastructure and business practices that we take for granted now. Also, without the computerized communication, a lot of time might be lost because somebody didn’t realize that he needed to do his job for your order now.

Sorry for the mostly-WAG. You might look into how places like Amazon work to see what the modern standard is like.

I had thought about the non-computerization angle. But after the computer has done it’s job most companies are still filling orders the way it’s always been done: an order picker gets a list and goes around picking stuff off the shelves and putting it in a box to be shipped to you. In the old days most stuff was ordered by mail, so that should have only added 3 days tops.

I was wondering if back then places didn’t have warehouses full of pre-made stuff. Most items were still made in the USA and weren’t cheap like Chinese goods are today. Stuff sitting in warehouses were basically frozen assets until they were purchased. So maybe more wasn’t produced until purchases were made?

It would depend on what you order and from where. L.L. Bean and other mail order houses didn’t take anywhere near six weeks.

But when you bought something by mail order, you wrote a check and mailed it. It would take up to a week to reach the destination. Then the check would be deposited. Banks often had a hold on out-of-town checks, which would add another week (a money order would eliminate that). The order would be pulled (a day or two) and then shipped (1-2 weeks). So that’s 2-4 weeks.

Of course, if the item was out of stock or back ordered, then it would take longer.

The six-to-eight weeks time was often for something like a special promotional offer. If you sent in your box tops, for instance, they’d have to make sure the had enough of the item, and would wait until they got a large number of orders in order to send out in bulk.

The 6-8 weeks often gave them enough time to get your order before they manufactured it. So let’s say they need 2 weeks to fulfill your order and they place one order with the manufacturer every month. That would be 6 weeks at the longest and you always pad the time a little bit just in case.

I was in the 4th grade when I mailed in some Bazooka Joe wrappers for a folding pocket knife. I was in the 6th grade when it came. I kid you not!

At least the knife was decent. I sent in some Dum Dum wrappers once for a “communication system”. When it finally came it was just 2 hollow metal discs and some string. I could have done the same thing with 2 empty tin cans and wouldn’t of had to wait the entire summer.

I would go the opposite, that they didn’t warehouse this stuff. When you placed a order back in the day it had to come to a central mail order location that held a limited supply, and most of that what was previously ordered. Your order was placed for a request to ship it to this mail order distru center. When they got it and got around to it it shipped.

This is very much different then today’s system where orders placed can ship from wherever it is direct and that where that may be can be located.

Circa 1980, I would get my packets* of back issues from Estelle Comics in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., exactly 2 weeks to the day from when I mailed my order to them. South Carolina to California to South Carolina. Even today it seems amazing to me. :slight_smile:

  • I would usually order 5-10 at a time, depending upon what I could afford.

That’s what I said. That they didn’t have warehouses and stuff had to be manufactured after it was ordered.

Back in the early 70s I had a tour round an EMI record factory and distribution centre. This was where they actually stamped out the records (remember them?) and shipped them to the shops.

We were shown the order centre where there were people sitting at desks, telephoning stores, taking their orders, and pitching sales for the next new hit. This all happened in the afternoon and the records were delivered to the stores the following day. Not a computer in sight anywhere.

Interestingly, they only carried small stocks of the records themselves as they could easily be stamped to order. Their biggest logistical problem was the sleeves as many of them,(think Sgt Pepper) were complex printing jobs with a long lead time.

Two places that surprised me with their speed back in the early 80s were J. C. Whitney and Clark/York photo processing. A week’s wait or less was typical.

It seemed like months waiting for my Sea Monkeys and a Bazooka camera back in the 70s.

The Sportsmans Guide stuff was also delivered very quickly.

What I want to know is, what changed? Do companies now have warehouses full of stuff to ship out immediately? Why can I mail in an order for a shirt from JCP and have it on my door step in under 10 days when 30+ years ago it took well over a month? If I phone in/internet the order the delivery time now days is even less.

It can’t just be computers, can it? I’m thinking it has to do with supply/inventories, as do some of you who have posted here. Was it really more expensive in 1973 to house stock than it is now?

I think computerization organizes things more than you consider. In the old days, a guy in a warehouse might be walking back and forth for a couple of hours picking up items on that list. Nowadays, a computer would know where each item was, would split up a dozen orders by sections, and send a list for each section to a person assigned to that area. Each section guy can quickly grab all of the items in his area and sent them together to a common area where the computer will sort all of the items back into the individual orders. A dozen orders are now completed in less than a quarter of the time the old guy would have spend on a single order.

But that doesnt explain a 4 week delay. Maybe a 4 hour delay.
Also,back then, the company would have probably had hired more than one worker to walk the aisles.

I also don’t understand the logic of saying that the warehousing costs were too high, so the weeks-long delay was partly due to the fact that they only ordered the product after some kid sent in his box tops.
Surely a large corporation like Kelllogs could have warehoused a couple thousand kids toys without worrying about the costs.

(But thanks for the memories: there were times in the 1960’s when I wanted to sending the box tops from my Kellogs Frosted Flakes to get a free Tony the Tiger toy whistle or magnifying glass or something…but didn’t do it because I couldn’t bear the suffering of waiting 4-6 weeks.That’s an eternity for a 7 year old! )

Generally it had to do with shipping. Items could be shipped much more inexpensively when shipped by the truck (or perhaps pallet) load, so the 6 - 8 week period was intended to allow the manufacturer to accumulate orders until he had a truck or pallet load and then ship them all at once.

I wonder how much of the improvement if from the competition of sellers trying to gain your sales, and also the competition of multiple delivery systems?

Back in the day it was USPS and that’s it. Now there’s lots of delivery venders.

The expectations of the buying public mean a lot today.

I have ordered stuff from Hong Kong and also the US and received it in two days!

My guess is that there are companies who stock things in UK or Europe and are waiting for orders to be sent from around the world - thing is those items were much cheaper than if I had ordered from recognised UK companies.


I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy either of these. About 90% of what I get delivered today is STILL brought by UPS or the postal service.

And why would a company need to accumulate orders to ship out? They were still using UPS or USPS to deliver back in the 60’s/70’s. They needed to save up to truck to the post office?

Sorry, but…Nah.

Mail, processing and check cashing alone could give you 4 weeks. More generally, logisitics has been a significant source of advances in productivity over the past 30 years. I suspect that there have been improved efficiencies along every link in the chain. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supply_chain_management

Here in the UK, although companies like UPS exist, their market penetration does not seem to be nearly as great as in the USA. At any rate, the stuff I buy via Amazon (whether direct from them or from one of their “marketplace” vendors) is nearly always delivered by the Post Office. Nevertheless, it almost always arrives within about 2 to 4 days (with ‘standard shipping’, which is usually free - I could pay more to get it even faster, but it is hardly worth it).

I do not know why this sort of thing seems now to be done so much more efficiently these days than it used to be.

On the other hand, it was months ago now that I ordered a free sample of some BreatheRight nasal strips from the manufacturer. They arrived (in an ordinary letter-type envelope) just yesterday.