As many of you know, I'm allergic to so many things I have to carry a binder around to keep track of them all! Since I'm the queen of all things allergies, I was recently asked about how to be considerate of the allergies of potential customers as an online seller.
Here are some guidelines and considerations to keep in mind:
Do you smoke? Does anyone in your home smoke? While you may think that keeping your items in a separate room where there isn't any smoking will be sufficient, smoke doesn't see a wall and stop. It permeates through walls, doors, and WILL permeate your product. If you smoke, you will not smell it. I've been smoked out of three apartments. Walls will not keep smoke confined.
If you personally smoke, the chemicals are released through your pores. Simply touching items can contaminate them and cause problems for someone who is allergic, especially if you smoked within the past 24 hours.
The best solution for dealing with smoke of any kind as an online seller? Quit.
If you thrift something that has even the faintest smell of smoke, regardless of the material, the smell will never come out. We have had so many belongings we had to trash! The only thing that can really remove (some) smoke is an ozone machine. Those are both cost prohibitive and don't always work. So if you can, sniff things when out thrifting. I would if I could, but I'm in a mask!
If anyone in your household smokes, please disclose it to your buyers.
Many people are allergic to cats or dogs, so it is important to disclose any pets in your household as well.
Not too long ago a new-to-us customer purchased a troll doll and a sheet, and mentioned that she was allergic to cats. Since we have cats, I offered to wash the sheet again (she declined, as she was going to put it directly in the washer anyways), and I wiped down the troll doll with witch hazel. While it was clean and wasn't actually dusty, some witch hazel on a cotton ball would have snatched up any errant cat dander. There wasn't much I could do about the troll doll's hair, and I said as much to the customer. If it is a hard, non-porous material, a witch hazel wipedown is the way to go.
For washable items and stuffed animals, be sure you store them in closed containers after washing. We use lots of plastic totes for this purpose.
~ Washable Items
Many people are sensitive to scents and laundry products. The best bet to prevent any issues with this aspect is to make your own, homemade laundry soap. Not only is it extremely effective, including as a stain remover, it is remarkably economical. It costs under $5 to make a batch, and it last us for 3-6 months! With a hubby who works in landscaping, we wash some filthy dirty clothes. This stuff works! (I'll post a laundry soap recipe here soon.)
The next best option is hypoallergenic or sensitive skin laundry soap. Unfortunately this is often quite expensive, which can reduce your profit margin.
If both of the previous options are out, using your regular laundry soap, with an extra rinse cycle and using vinegar as a fabric softener cleans your items and helps to rid them of the chemical residue left behind by traditional laundry detergent.
Obviously my most highly recommended option is homemade laundry soap! Fabric softener isn't necessary, but white vinegar will help decrease static cling.
~ Sanitizing Spray/ Fabric Refresher/ Etc.
If we receive something in the mail that my hubby reports smells of fragrance, I am immediately suspicious. What is the seller trying to cover up? These products are for hiding smells, so what lies beneath the chemical-laden layer?
Skip them. Not only am I not the only customer to have the above thoughts, many people are allergic to these. Who needs more chemicals in their lives?
~ Latex Allergies
Soapbox time! Latex allergy is so mis- and under- diagnosed it absolutely infuriates me. With every exposure to latex making a minor allergy closer to being airborne anaphylactic, and every exposure to latex for the "average" person increasing the likelihood of developing a latex allergy, it is critical to be on the safe side here.
Handling things with latex gloves, at any point, is risky. This includes rubber kitchen gloves, unless of course they are nitrile (in which case, kudos to you!). The form of latex used to make latex gloves is especially prone to "shedding" particles all over, so much so that any room in which a latex glove has been used is immediately contaminated.
If you have to use a rubber band, use latex free rubber bands. However, there really is no reason to use any when shipping items. Small items can always be corralled in a Ziploc baggie. (Ziploc is latex free by the way!)
While I am personally allergic to all dish soap and cleaners, and I can only use baking soda, vinegar, running alcohol, and witch hazel to clean products, the good news for you is that you really don't need to make any modifications in cleaning items such as dishware.
As long as you rinse items well in the sink after cleaning, you should be just fine, unless of course a special request is made. A good rinsing is generally standard anyways.
Of special consideration is Pyrex. Some use coconut oil to shine Pyrex. If you do so, it is extremely important to disclose this when selling- not only due to coconut allergies, but also as a responsible, honest business owner.
~ Little Extras
It can be fun to add in little extras such as candy, perfume samples, pencils, and such. However, it is also extremely risky. I personally have friends who have gone into anaphylactic shock because of little extras included in a package such as something as seemingly innocent as a pencil or eraser. Do you really want to be responsible for this? Shock is potentially fatal, so I'm going to go out a limb and assume that you don't!
Would you include a bag of peanuts with an order? Likely not, due to the common occurrence of peanut allergies. Latex allergy is actually more common than peanut allergies, so it is of utmost importance to take both into consideration. Latex is in over 50,000 products, so if you are wondering if it is in something, please feel completely free to ask me!
Chocolate and candy can also contain allergens, but I've known sellers who have received nasty feedback for sending a piece of candy. Wondering why? It melted all over the product!
Personally if I am going to add something extra in, I either ensure that there are no allergies on the receiving end or add in something similar. For example, if someone purchases ephemera and I have some similar pieces, I may add those in.
My handmade upcycled paper flowers have sticks as stems, so anyone with an allergy to trees may have issue with them. The only scents I can tolerate are my candles- but others may not. So if I add in either of these things, I ask beforehand. Sometimes a customer doesn't want one- and that's just fine!
The customer will still be pleasantly surprised at the little bonus token of appreciation, they will not be receiving something they don't want (no one wants more clutter!), and you'll be ensuring the transaction is a happy one!
Blow your customers away with fantastic customer service, ninja shipping, and reasonable prices. Little extras are nice, but let the core of your business speak for itself!
As you've read, there are a lot of considerations to take into account as an allergy-sensitive online seller. If you have any further questions on this topic, please do not hesitate to contact me! This is a critical topic that I am passionate about, so I am always happy to address any concerns and help you keep your customers happy and, more importantly, safe!