Chinese Conglomerate Unsubtly Attempts To Woo U.S. Shoppers, With 11 Main

Ecommerce giant Alibaba soft-launches an eBay-Etsy hybrid as it prepares for a New York IPO.

Chinese Conglomerate Unsubtly Attempts To Woo U.S. Shoppers, With 11 Main
[Image: General Store via Shutterstock]

Remember when “I found it on eBay” was a savvy-shopper badge of honor?


No longer. Ecommerce sites with slick designs are easier than ever to set up, thanks to platforms like Shopify. Digital megastores like eBay have been feeling the heat as they overhaul their shopping experiences and rethink their market positioning in order to keep up.

That pressure intensified earlier this week, as Hangzou-based ecommerce juggernaut Alibaba soft-launched 11 Main, a digital storefront for American small business owners that functions as an eBay-Etsy hybrid. Since filing for a New York IPO–potentially the largest in history, with some analysts projecting that the company will raise upwards of $20 billion on the day the bell rings–Alibaba has been striking deals at a relentless pace, but largely within the confines of its home market. As the name indicates, 11 Main represents its first attempt to woo Main Street USA.

Image: Spirit of America / Shutterstock

At the moment the welcome page for the site is a treacle-bomb, with photographs of vintage bicycles and old-fashioned candy in glass jars. Alibaba executives are hopeful that this heavy-handed Americana will win over sellers who are falling out of love with the design “noise” on sites like Amazon, where a quick attempt to browse products can feel like work.

“There are many small shop owners that are looking for broader platforms, but when they look at the broader platforms, those are not necessarily structured to support their brands or their identities,” Mike Effle, president of 11 Main, told The Wall Street Journal. He envisions 11 Main as a cleanly designed site featuring product categories like baby, fashion, home, and toys.

So far 1,000 U.S. merchants have registered–a teeny fraction of the eight million sellers active Alibaba’s existing marketplaces, including Taobao and Tmall.

Whether or not 11 Main achieves anything close to that scale, Alibaba hopes to at least gain valuable intelligence about the current behaviors of American store owners. To request an 11 Main invitation, merchants must submit a form indicating where they currently sell online (eBay, Amazon, Etsy) and which back-end software they use.

11 Main joins a growing portfolio of U.S.-based Alibaba operations and investments. Last October the company funneled $206 million into ShopRunner, which partners with brands to offer two-day shipping, and more recently it invested $15 million in 1stdibs, an online store for luxury goods like furniture and jewelry.

About the author

Staff writer Ainsley (O'Connell) Harris covers the business of technology with a focus on financial services and education. Follow her on Twitter at @ainsleyoc.