China’s e-commerce super marketplace, Alibaba, is bringing the US a new and more personalized online shopping experience with 11main.com, an online marketplace that aims to create the feeling of walking down the “Main Streets” of American towns and browsing their local boutiques and specialty shops. Thus far, the 11 Main merchants are a handful of invite-only vendors (Alibaba is choosy about the shop owners who will be peppering this virtual real estate). The company’s current 1,000 invitees include the purveyors of single gear bicycles, cool backpacks, chic tunics, and organic skincare—just to give a sampling. No date has been set yet as to when 11 Main’s doors officially open to the public. Until then, the “shop owners are currently unpacking and getting settled,” as the website so warmly informs.
This big move comes as a precursor to what will be the biggest American IPO in history. Alibaba filed in late May, and the offer could go through as soon as August. This is a two-fold FDI for Alibaba, which will make it one of the biggest tech companies in the world (sharing the spotlight with the likes of Oracle and IBM) and allow for expansion into the US market it has had its eye on for quite some time.
President of 11 Main and former CEO at Vendio Michael Effle believes that the one-to-one concept of 11 Main (that’s where the 11 in 11 Main comes from) will fill the need of the consumers who want to feel a connection with the merchants, and the merchants who want to have that same personal connection to their consumers. The website’s name itself hints at Alibaba’s intention to connect and engage with US online shoppers in a personalized fashion. Nearly 80% of Chinese online shoppers currently use Alibaba.com. “For many Chinese consumers, [Alibaba] has provided a transformative experience, giving them access to products they would have never seen,” said Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA China. Now, 11 Main will let US shoppers (virtually) stroll down Main Street, U.S.A.—giving millions of people the opportunity to shop millions of specialty goods made by local American businesses located all over the country—from the comfort of their own living rooms.
But let’s put the excitement for niche markets and local shop owners aside to ask the big question: What can Alibaba offer that Amazon and eBay can’t?
11 Main is a boutique experience. Alibaba is bigger than eBay and Amazon combined, yet unlike Amazon and eBay, Alibaba’s 11 Main will provide a boutique shopping experience. Each vendor will be vetted, and once approved, each vendor will be able to personalize (brand) their space with images, video, and copy, all of which set the site’s aesthetic apart from the existing generic listings found on Amazon and eBay.
Alibaba is less expensive for vendors. Brands will pay a 3.5% commission. That’s half of what Amazon and eBay charge. Although it’s the same amount as vendors pay to sell on Etsy, the power of Alibaba’s marketing team will win hands down over Etsy’s much smaller advertising reach. There are no announced marketing strategies, but Google and Bing are currently advertising 11 Main.