Food-by-Mail Industry Update – March 2017

Be Prepared for Website Outages

Last week’s internet outage impacted many specialty food websites. This brought to light, once again, the importance of contingency planning. Though outages rarely happen, being prepared can make a huge impact on how your customers are affected, positively or negatively.

Outages create a host of problems beyond delayed orders and call center nightmares. Internet security is a rising prolific issue and customer trust is a fragile commodity. The number one response to a site outage from a repeat buyer is fear. Common concerns include; ‘Is my information secure?’ ‘Will I be hacked?’ ‘Something bad must be happening.’ A shopper who arrives to an inoperable site for their first visit likely won’t come back.

Planning ahead is key. Here are our top 5 recommendations for wise contingency planning:

  1. Review the maintenance page for your website. This is the standard page that displays a message when the site goes down. Elements of a strong maintenance page begin with a courteous greeting, “Thank you for visiting us”. It also should include a clear, uncomplicated message as to what is going on and when the shopper can expect resolution. A customer service phone number should be prominently displayed as well as a message encouraging the visitor to get in touch, “We are still open for business, call with questions or concerns”. Include your customer service e-mail address. A feed from your Twitter page can show real time updates and reassure customers that you are actively working on the issue. Lastly, the page should have elements of your brand but it should stay simple. Inserting appropriate humor has been a successful play to encourage positivity and ease of mind.
  2. Make sure the customer service team is the first to know there is an issue. Customers will be calling and an informed representative is your best ambassador. Make sure the messaging is consistent between all representatives and that it’s always positive. Your team should offer the caller assurance that this is a rare occurrence and all websites can have outages from time to time. Updating the team with time frames and new messaging throughout the outage is optimal. Customers will call back.
  3. Know where your website is hosted and where the status page is located. Your web host will be inundated with calls and complaints and may be unable to respond. The status page is the best place to find relevant information, an explanation for the outage and updates on resolution. Make sure team members have this page handy as well. Most employees won’t know where your website is hosted.
  4. Use social media to communicate with your customers. Shoppers often go to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram during an outage. The quicker you respond, and the more proactive you are in getting the correct messaging out there, the more you protect buyer trust and loyalty. Regular Twitter posts can be very helpful in spreading updated information. Be sure to remove all outage messaging from these sources after the site is back up and running. This can often be overlooked.
  5. Have an e-mail ready to go letting your best customers know that your site is temporarily unavailable. Again, proactive messaging is key. A customer is much less concerned when receiving an e-mail about an issue than stumbling upon it unknowingly. Turn lemonades into lemons and send a follow up e-mail after the site is functional again. Use this as a promotional opportunity, “Sorry for the inconvenience, shipping is on us!”.

Preparing for something that occurs so seldom is never at the top of the list. But outages are unpreventable, inevitable and they happen without warning. In the midst of chaos, having a plan in place will pay significant dividends. When companies are uninformed and unprepared, the cost can be significant. Let us know if you would like to further this conversation.

The event will be held April 2 – 4th in Chicago and will cover all the latest and greatest in specialty food eCommerce. 5th Food Group will be presenting, along with an incredible line up of speakers and participants. Visit for more information.

Want to meet us there? Contact Jennifer Emanuelson at

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