UPDATED: Waiting for a package: delivery guarantees deciphered #wtf

I ordered something from an online retailer last week and in checkout I selected the 3-7 day delivery option. As a public service, I thought I’d take a few moments of the time I’m spending sitting by the mailbox to deconstruct some shipping terminology for you.

Here’s the term: Guaranteed delivery in 3-7 business days. Seems straightforward enough. But what does it mean specifically?

  1. Start with the “3.” That part is from Marketing. Three days sounds pretty good and is the part you’re supposed to focus on. It’s the bright, shiny, “hey, look over there!” misdirection, designed to hook you into the excitement of your new purchase. I know a lot of Marketing guys from my Pimps Anonymous group, and trust me, they’d say “3 minutes to 7 days” if Legal would let them get away with it. They’d argue that technically, a package that arrives in six days, 23 hours and 59 minutes is, in fact, within the 3 minute-to-7 day window.
  2. “7” – that’s reality talking. This is what Operations sees as doable in nearly all cases.
  3. Catch #1: “business days.” This is logistics speak for “add two.”
  4. Catch #2: that’s 3-7 business days and the clock starts TOMORROW.
  5. Catch #3: that’s 3-7 business days from when they finally ship the package. And that can take who the hell knows how long.
  6. Finally, somewhere Legal is wetting themselves over the word “guaranteed.” Any time you see a guarantee, read the fine print, which is where it’s explained, plain as day, in black and white 4-point print, that there’s nothing guaranteed about it at all.

In conclusion, “3-7 business days” is online retailer speak for “fuck you – you’ll get it when you get it and you’ll damned well like it.”

Back to my example. I’m leaving on a little trip Friday, and the item in question (a mid-weight hoody) would come in handy, as I’m heading to the mountains and then down to Taos. I’m going to be out and about and expect the weather to be crisp, but not cold. In other words, ideal autumn mid-weight hoody weather. I won’t die without it, of course, but it would be nice.

Placed order last Tuesday, the 18th. Got an e-mail this morning notifying me that it was shipped today. The 26th. That’s eight goddamned days it took them to find the motherfucker on the shelf (this is not a rare, customized item – there’s bound to be a box of them in my size no more than 50 feet from the computer terminal in the fulfillment facility). You’d think they had to go out and source some unthinkably rare unicorn nutsack fur to make it, then have it homespun under a blue moon deep in an Anatolian witches lair, then knee-walked to the warehouse in Bozeman.

So, to sum up. 3-7 business days from when it is shipped, abiding by the definitions noted above, means that my hoody will probably arrive on or about the sixth of October. Which is closer to three weeks than it is to one.

Glad to be of help. And now, if you don’t mind, I have some waiting to get back to.

UPDATED: The original post has been updated to account for Lara Amber’s comment below and the communication from the shipping company confirming her point. Many thanks, as always, to our helpful readers.


  • The real catch is when they say “3-7 days (from when it ships)”. So it might take us two weeks to pick it from the warehouse and get it ready to ship, but hey, after that it was only 4 days to show up!

  • Good point. Products that haven’t even been made yet may entail a bit of an extra wait.

  • It’s been eight days since I placed my order. I’m going on a trip Friday and was hoping to have the item by then, as it would come in handy. This morning I received an e-mail letting me know they just shipped it.

    No mention of what the fuck they’ve been doing for the past week….

  • From my own experience fulfilling those orders, 3 means, “if you order on Friday, the earliest we’ll get to it is Monday, but don’t bank on it. If you order on Monday, fat chance because we’re backlogged from Friday. Same for Tuesday. We’ll “try” to fulfill Friday orders on Wednesday *snicker* but really, it’ll probably be Friday, a week out (7 days from when you ordered). We throw “business days” into the mix just to keep you off-guard and to give us until the 2nd Tuesday after your Friday order, just in case.”

    “Delivery” means, “We put it in the mail room. Don’t know what’s up with those assholes.”

    “Guaranteed,” means, “Dear Pissed Off Customer, yeah, we know. You’re pissed. Here, let us help by blaming you for the snafu. Did you email us first to confirm it was in stock? Would actually be picked up by the delivery service on the day *you* expected? Pay extra for package tracking? No? How does it feel to be a rube? Please let us know how you would like to proceed. If you would like a refund, please let us know when the package arrives. We strive to reply to all refund requests in 3-7 business days. Guaranteed.”

    “Reply” means, “String you along with questions to defer the big payout day until it feels good to us. We strive to reply to all email communications within 3-7 business days. Guaranteed.”

    Number of refunds requested out of total orders: negligible. Cost of lost customers and bad word of mouth? Negligible. Your business compared to the bottom line? Negligible. Soul that is sucked right out of fulfillment employee’s shredded dignity? Priceless.

  • I’ve got a spare hoodie I could FedEx you overnight …

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