How to Make Your Customers Aware of Warnings & Disclaimers

Making customers aware of potential danger keeps them safe — and protects your business.
Reading product label
Cut down on returns, boost your reputation as an honest seller and reduce your risk of lawsuits by making sure your customers understand warnings and disclaimers. (Photo: Shutterstock/Tyler Olson)

Warnings and disclaimers are some of the most important tools retailers have to protect their shoppers and avoid lawsuits. However, many stores struggle to get their customers to read and understand the information, thus reducing the warning’s effectiveness.

“Sellers can too often figure that their ethical responsibility ends when they’ve buried the dangers in disclaimers. It doesn’t,” said Bruce Sanders, consumer psychologist and author of “Retailer’s Edge: Boost Profits Using Shopper Psychology.”

“Few people will read the terms and conditions thoroughly when making a purchase decision. Merchants can swindle, and even physically endanger, their customers because of this,” he said.

Get shoppers’ attention, ensure they understand important information and earn their trust through honest sales practices, with these tips from Sanders.

Related: Is Your Business Unknowingly Engaged in Deceptive Pricing

Be upfront about potential dangers

Have you ever worried that you’ll scare off a customer by telling them the potential dangers of a product? Fear not: One study showed that a sale may be more likely if a retailer is upfront about potential dangers, said Sanders.

bruce-sanders

When explaining possible dangers and warnings for your products, it’s important to use plain English and terms that your average customers will understand, said Bruce Sanders. (Photo: Bruce Sanders)

“When people are warned of the dangers in using a product, they build trust in the retail source of that message as being honest,” he said. “Over time, the impact of the warning fades, but the feeling of trust in the product benefits statements remains.”

How you deliver the warning also plays a big role in whether or not customers will take notice —and ultimately see you as trustworthy. Make sure written information is easy to spot by using large letters and fonts that are different from other text on the packaging. Sanders also suggested business owners express any potential dangers verbally.

“It’s important to use plain English and terms that your average customers will understand,” he explained. “A serious, business-like tone will help them listen to what you’re saying.”

These principles also apply to your advertisements. Don’t bury information in fine print or talk too quickly when you disclose risks, advised Sanders.

Related: 5 Ways to Get Free Advertising for Your Small Business

“Speaking at a rapid rate will come across as trying to pull a fast one — tricking the shopper by confusing them.”

Learn the nuances of ‘not’

In your warnings and disclaimers, be careful when using the word “not.” Customers may misremember the message in the opposite way, said Sanders.

According to a study in the Journal for Consumer Research, a toothpaste dispenser labeled as “not easy to use” actually earned higher ratings from customers than the same product labeled as “not difficult to use.”

“It wasn’t as if they failed to see the ‘not,’” explained Sanders. “Instead, it was that ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’ had much greater emphasis in the decision-making than did the ‘not.’”

If your instructions include information on what a customer should not do, they should be immediately followed with what they should do, he said. For example, rather than just saying, “Do not wash this item in hot water,” the warning should also say, “Wash this item in cold or warm water only.”

Sanders said this format “gives more emphasis. It works because telling what a person should not do grabs their attention, then saying what they should do reinforces the information.”

Don’t exaggerate dangers

While it’s important to let customers know if a product could produce side effects or possibly endanger them, going overboard in explaining every last risk might backfire.

“Never exaggerate the danger for purposes of emphasis. The more strongly you portray the severity, the more likely people will minimize the warning,” he said. “Some people even treat warnings of dire consequences as a dare.”

Instead, caution customers about the most realistic risks they face, and how to avoid them.

“If you have a whole bunch of warnings, explain the most important ones first. Then pause to give a customer time to comprehend the information before moving on to lower priority information,” Sanders suggested.

Double-check they understand

Giving a warning or disclaimer is only half of your responsibility in keeping customers safe. You should also double-check that consumers really understand potential risks, especially once they get to the point of sale, said Sanders.

“If you have a whole bunch of warnings, explain the most important ones first. Then pause to give a customer time to comprehend the information before moving on to lower priority information.” – Bruce Sanders

“Caution them again in a matter-of-fact way. Use multiple channels to explain any warnings, including verbal [communications], written materials to take home and a [demonstration on] how to use the product safely, if time allows,” he added.

Finally, open up the conversation to clear up any questions they may have.

“Don’t ask, ‘Do you have any questions?’ They’ll probably just say ‘no.’ Instead, ask, ‘What questions or concerns do you have?’ which is much more inviting,” said Sanders.

Ensuring your customers understand warnings will help you cut down on product returns, develop a reputation as an honest seller and reduce your risk of lawsuits. Most important, it will keep your customers safe, so they can and want to return to spend more money with your business.

Related: The Records You’ll Need if You Ever Get Sued

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