China's largest e-commerce company is making its first appearance in the US with the debut of 11Main.com, an invite-only online marketplace that showcases small business retailers.
Industry watchers will be paying close attention because 11 Main is owned by Alibaba, the e-commerce giant in China that filed for an initial public offering in the US in May. Bigger than Amazon and eBay combined, Alibaba had no US e-commerce presence until now.
Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru believes Alibaba won't find it easy to break into the crowded online shopping industry.
"US e-commerce is crowded and relies on high marketing expenses to rise above the clutter," she said. "The hope is high. We'll see if they live up to expectations."
For now, Alibaba is starting small with 11 Main, based in San Mateo, California. The site, which debuted Wednesday in a beta phase, will feature "hundreds of thousands" of products from 1,000 to 2,000 upscale specialty shops and boutiques around the country that were vetted by 11 Main.
11 Main is going live just as Alibaba prepares to go public. Although it's not well-known in the United States, Alibaba is a powerhouse that helped drive the rise of e-commerce in China, a transformation that has given millions of households greater access to clothes, books and consumer electronics in a society that in the 1980s still required ration tickets for some supermarket items.
The 15-year-old company has navigated technical and financial challenges and a battle with eBay Inc. to become the world's biggest online bazaar and is now planning to sell stock in the US Analysts say its initial public offering planned for later this year_ could raise up to $20 billion.
The 11 Main site's layout is clutter-free and without ads, similar to social-media sharing site Pinterest. Shoppers can browse or search by category or retailer. The site features video profiles of some of the small businesses along with its products to give users a sense of what the stores and their owners are like.
Forrester analyst Kelland Willis said Alibaba's strategy with 11 Main is to try to offer the Amazon or eBay shopper a different type of online shopping experience, giving each vendor its own identity on the site and offering a more curated shopping experience.