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Five Ways We Bought Sneakers Before the Internet

Date: October 14 2019

By: Minh Vuong

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You could be sitting at your desk during work, browser tabs in Incognito Mode, doing a little bit of online shopping. Or perhaps it’s the dead of night, and your eyes are straining against a bright 6-inch phone screen. Or worse yet, a night on the turps has you pressing ‘Add to Cart’ with inebriated abandon. A click here, a swipe there and, before you know it, your junk email folder has an invoice north of $500.

It’s all too easy today. The prevalence of mobile-optimised shopping and continually developing e-commerce means copping kicks is possible in the palm of our hands. However, wind back the clock to before the year 2000, and it was much more difficult to get your footwear fix. These are five ways we bought sneakers before the Internet.

Eastbay Mail Order Form

Eastbay's current Mail Order form. Image credit: Eastbay

Runners World 1985 Mail Orders

Runner's World, September 1985 Issue

Catalogue / Mail Order

One of the oldest purchase methods was the mail order. As the name suggests, it involved mailing a retailer or supplier an order form, along with payment via a money order, cheque or even cold, hard cash. Upon receipt of the order and money, the retailer would mail back the ordered goods. Many of you will fondly remember circling key products in Eastbay catalogues. The US-based retailer still offers a mail order system – the current form is pictured above. They can even process orders if the customer chooses to send in their form via fax!

Runners World 1985 Phone Orders
Phone Order Sneaker Telephone Hand Dialing

Phone Order

In a similar vein to mail orders, phone orders involve contacting vendors via telephone to procure your desired product. Customers can pay over the phone by sharing relevant EFTPOS details to have their sneakers mailed out. However, due to security reasons, not all retailers accept phone payments. This method can also be used to simply get in touch with sneaker stores in real-time, to reserve stock. Phone orders are still in practice today, and can offer customers peace of mind when buying sneakers sight unseen.

Rosebowl Fleamarket Converse

Image credit: @rosebowl_fleamarket


Car Boot Sales / Flea Markets

Particularly prominent in the UK, car boot sales are exactly just that. Sellers turn up with their cars on an empty lot to sell their wares out of the boots. The American equivalent is the flea sale – one of the most well-known is the Rose Bowl Flea Market, held monthly in Pasadena. While, in Australia, you can head down to the weekly Camberwell Sunday Market in suburban Melbourne. Vendors set up in a large space to lay out all their goods. Anecdotally, more often than not, it’ll be someone’s flogged beaters, but there is sometimes a shady character with pallets of brand new, high quality athletic trainers. You’re told it’s stock that fell off the back of a truck… as you pay a heavily discounted price for your new kicks.

Classified Ads Newspaper Page

Image credit: AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Classified Ads

Before Internet forums, eBay, Craigslist and Gumtree, classified ads in newspapers were the best way to find old collectibles. Private sellers would buy some page space to promote whatever product or service they were offering. These ads would usually be a conduit to enquire further, setting up an inspection and eventual transaction with the seller, rather than making a phone order. The advent of the Internet has all but killed off this method for buying and selling sneakers, but it might still be a cheap way to score a car or lawnmower!

Jumpmanstore La Wall

Jumpman LA store. Image credit: Nike

Brick-and-Mortar Stores

Wait, what? Yes, it’s entirely possible to walk into physical spaces dedicated to viewing, trying and purchasing of sneakers. They’re known as brick-and-mortar stores, rooms or buildings that display product and even have trained employees to assist with any queries. There are still some pretty cool stores out there, so don’t be afraid to talk to some salespeople to get help in buying your next pair of shoes. They’re the experts, after all. And we’ve even got a handy Sneaker Store Guide to help you find the best retail spots around the world...

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