Pandemic Policies: How to Communicate Your Online Store’s Health and Safety Practices

Want to bring back shoppers? It could all balance on how well your online store conveys its health and safety policies.

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With more people shopping online than ever before, having an online store has meant you could continue to operate throughout the pandemic.

That doesn’t automatically mean, however, that health-and-safety-conscious customers are willing to trust your store. You need to make your COVID cleaning and health-related policies crystal clear.

It’s one thing to buy something from Amazon, a company who spends millions advertising its safety measures. It’s another to buy something from DTC brands, niche resellers or mom and pop stores.

Mid-game NFL adverts may be out of the question, but thoughtful, comprehensive and clear brand messaging can go a long way to communicating your store’s health and safety policies.

Whatever You Do, Say Something

It may be tempting to stay silent given the deluge of emails consumers received at the start of the pandemic. Who wants another notification from a store they bought something from a year ago, after all?

Consumers need to hear from you, however. According to a joint study by Berkeley Communications and Arlington Research, 31% of consumers worry that businesses who aren’t sharing information during the pandemic are in financial difficulty. 

“It’s obvious that without a clear communication strategy, you risk consumers coming to their own conclusions—and those conclusions might not even be right,” says Lynsey Barry, Managing Director UK, Berkeley Communications. It doesn’t matter if you’ve come out of the pandemic stronger and have extremely stringent health and safety policies. Customers don’t know that unless you tell them and may be hesitant to place an order in case you can’t deliver. 

In reality, very few customers are turned off by corporate communication at the moment. A consumer engagement study by Twilio found that 73% of consumers said “never, rarely, or occasionally” when asked whether they’d been annoyed by communication. In fact, 47% of consumers said they wanted to hear from brands more often or at the same rate as before the pandemic. 

Further, updates on health and safety policies are exactly the kind of communication consumers want. In a study from market research company Morning Consult, consumers listed compliance-related notifications around cleaning and social distancing third in a list of eight preferred brand updates.

covid smartphone app; pandemic policies concept

Create a Dedicated Landing Page for Your Pandemic Policies

“In times of crisis, your website should serve as a source of truth and updates for your customers,” writes Tess Bemporat at independent business solutions provider Lightspeed. That means having a page dedicated to your coronavirus-related practices. It should include details of your health and safety policies, as well as relevant product information, delivery times, contact information, coronavirus-related resources and a list of frequently asked questions.

In doing so, you’ll be following the lead of the vast majority of retailers in the Digital Commerce360 Top 100. According to the company’s data, 75% of those retailers have some form of COVID-related message on their websites. 

Be specific, says Robin Strathdee, a Digital Marketing Coordinator at digital commerce agency Classy Llama. “Don’t just assume that they know you’re taking extra precautions,” she writes. “Your customers are likely very concerned about the safety of the products they are bringing into their homes, and the safety of those who work in the companies that make those products.” 

If you’re sanitizing products, describe the process. If you’re cleaning your warehouses, say so. If employees are taking additional safety measures, explain the PPE they are wearing.

Make sure to include details about your shipping process, writes Errol Denger, Director of Strategy and Product Management at Adobe. Describe the steps you are taking to minimize contamination while explaining that packages are actually very low risk when it comes to transmission. Providing guidance on how to maintain social distancing when receiving the package from the delivery driver may also be prudent.

Make Sure Your Pandemic Policies Are Seen

There’s no point creating a catch-all coronavirus page if no one sees it. That’s why Smart Insights Co-Founder Dave Chaffey recommends adding a note to the top of every page on your website. This can either include everything you want to say in relation to COVID-19 or, more likely, link to a dedicated coronavirus page.

Don’t rely on a banner alone, however. Kim Salazar, a Senior User Experience Specialist with Nielsen Norman Group, notes that banners at the top of pages risk being missed. One solution is to use contrasting colors and other visual elements to add weight to them — but even that might not do the trick. The solution? Include important information on key pages like shopping carts and checkouts.

Email is another way to notify consumers of your health and safety policies without them having to visit your site. Don’t let that be the only off-site channel you use, though, writes strategic communications consultant Jessica Nable

“Brands tend to over-rely on email because it’s inexpensive, and production times are short,” she explains. “However, consumers’ inboxes are overwhelmed with marketing messages. To ensure you reach your audience with time-sensitive, developing information, leverage a variety of owned, paid, and earned channels.”

bottle of hand sanitizer; pandemic policies concept

Set the Right Tone in All Communication

Whatever channel you use, it’s important to adopt the right tone when you do speak directly to customers. Keep your message on point and have a clear purpose. Fast Company’s Jeff Beer notes coronavirus messages have tended to fall into three tiers: the service message, the brand friend and the random email. Make sure you only send tier one service messages.

When you do send messages, stick to using the HEART framework, developed by Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business professors Ted Waldron and James Wetherbe. It “provides guidelines on what to say — and what not to say — to consumers during sustained crises.” Most importantly, it helps you to focus on making customers aware of your plans and the value you’re providing. 

In particular, pay attention to the “A” section of the framework, which stands for “Assure consumers the company’s values will continue.” The key, explain Waldron and Wetherbe, is to describe how your brand will continue to provide service to your customers despite the upheaval. Make it clear that your safety practices mean nothing has changed and there’s no reason for customers to shop anywhere else. 

It’s not just the outgoing message you need to think about. 

Consumers are bound to have questions about your brand and your health and safety practices. Some, perhaps stressed by the pandemic, will even have complaints. It’s important to acknowledge and deal with any questions, comments and complaints quickly, says clinical psychologist Guy Winch. At a time like this, go out of your way to acknowledge the comment, make the consumer feel validated and then deal with the issue as best you can. 

Remember, communicating your health and safety policies isn’t finished when you publish your coronavirus-related information page. Employees may need to soothe customer concerns in every interaction. That means everyone who works for you must be crystal clear on your policies, too. 

Images by: Joel Muniz, Brian McGowan, Kelly Sikkema

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