Selling online is easy. Getting noticed is tough.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Selling things online is easier than ever. Standing out to shoppers is getting harder.

Kevin Stecko has spent more than two decades selling nostalgic apparel emblazoned with He-Man, ThunderCats and more online at 80sTees.com. But lately, he said, some customers seem to have a hard time finding him. In Google searches for terms like “He-Man shirts,” he said, his site appears beneath paid ads from competitors.

His novel solution: a paper catalog mailed to thousands of homes.

“The print cost plus the postage costs should actually do as well or better than it does to acquire customers online,” Mr. Stecko said. The catalog costs about $86,000 to produce, though he is waiting for more sales to come in before judging its success.

The tech ecosystem that powers ecommerce has simplified the way aspiring merchants set up shop, from web design and inventory management to email marketing and sales-tax collection. Shopify Inc., a provider of such services, said 1.75 million merchants used its platform last year, more than double the number two years earlier. But the lower entry barriers and rising cost of online advertising are making it harder for existing and new sellers to cut through the crowd and find more customers.

Sellers and consultants say that in addition to marketing tactics like search-optimizing web pages and targeting users on social media, brands must also take the more elaborate steps of developing community among customers or an identity that consumers deem authentic. Other online sellers are testing out distinctly analog ways of reaching new customers, like printed catalogs or bricks-and-mortar shops.

“There are certain things that have gotten easier and that makes other things hard,” said Rick Watson, chief executive of the ecommerce consulting firm RMW Commerce Consulting Inc. Advertisements aren’t as effective as content—like email newsletters or YouTube videos—created by the brands to entertain or inform, he said.

. . . .

“It’s vastly easier for an individual, without taking a bunch of investor dollars, to build a brand, create a product and sell it to customers,” Mr. Young said. “But the bar has become a lot higher to be unique.”

. . . .

New entrants to online selling face steep odds. “From a consumer vantage point, there’s a lot of clutter,” said Michelle Evans, digital retail analyst at the research firm Euromonitor. “You have to sort through who best to buy from and what to buy.”

Owners of online shops that have built up their businesses for years say they have an advantage in affinity from existing customers and proven methods for finding more.

Randy Owen, founder of ThermoWorks Inc., has been selling kitchen thermometers for two decades, and the handheld staple of chefs’ kitchens has garnered approval from publications like America’s Test Kitchen and food personalities like Alton Brown.

Mr. Owen hasn’t sold on Amazon.com Inc. since 2015, citing lack of access to customer data and the fact that Amazon sold similar-looking thermometers at a lower price. Still, sales have since increased to over $75 million a year, including a jump during the pandemic as more people cooked at home, he said.

ThermoWorks has to work constantly to continue ranking high on relevant search terms on Alphabet Inc.’s Google and also monitors product listings on other platforms to ensure they aren’t using his brand’s name.

Since people can’t buy ThermoWorks on Amazon, the retail giant sells search ads for the thermometer maker’s product names. Mr. Owen said ThermoWorks’ legal options there are limited. An Amazon spokesman said the site is designed to show, through search results and ads, products that customers can buy.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“If a particular product is not available, we present them with similar products from our vast selection,” the spokesman said.

While ThermoWorks may lose some sales to shoppers buying other thermometers on Amazon, Mr. Owen said, many eventually find his site. “They’ll find a copycat that lasts them a few months before they come to us,” he said.

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Mr. Stecko of 80sTees.com said that his acquisition costs have actually risen, due in part to rising digital advertising costs. “The saying in digital marketing is, whoever can spend the most wins,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)