Alibaba Takes Aim at Amazon, eBay With New U.S. Shopping Site

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With an American IPO on the horizon, Alibaba is launching a new U.S. website called 11 Main. The shopping website is currently available as an invite-only beta, but it is an attempt by the Chinese online shopping giant to enter the American market before its Wall Street premiere later this year.

Alibaba makes up 80 percent of online purchases in its native China, and it is bigger than Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) combined. Like Amazon, Alibaba’s model is built on a series of smaller vendors selling through its website. Its new American product, 11 Main, is built on the same premise. The website will feature high-end fashion, décor, accessories, and crafts. It is like an upscale and expanded Etsy with a big company backing it that gets a 3.5 percent commission on every sale.

The company is using the “Main Street” concept to brand its new product. This virtual portal for goods is also relying on exclusivity to help build up the new product.

“The site, currently in beta, features a wide range of products, including one-of-a-kind items, not available at mass merchants and other large e-commerce sites,” said 11 Main in a press release.

Vendors have to go through a screening process to be permitted to sell on the website; eBay and Etsy require no such screening.

Of course, the reason for the new website is simple. Alibaba is not particularly well known in the United States, so launching an American branch ahead of its IPO is a way for the company to draw in U.S. customers and impress the analysts and Wall Street traders who will determine the success of the company’s IPO later this year. The novelty of a Chinese company expanding into a new market is intriguing to watch, which may work in the company’s favor if successful.

Forrester analyst Kelland Willis told Forbes that she and others would be watching 11 Main. “Chinese companies are very much like American companies in that by serving their own market, they can become very profitable,” said Willis. “Not many have crossed over. We’re all curious to see how they do as they get into other markets aside from China.”

Entering a new market is a risky move for any company. Alibaba does not have the name recognition it has in China. Plus, launching a new website means the company will have to build up that brand, too.

While it is not available to the general public yet, 11 Main already faces some stiff competition from existing e-commerce websites like Amazon, eBay and Etsy. The company has already started advertising on Google and other online venues, likely due to the fact that 11 Main is more than just an e-commerce website — it is Alibaba introducing itself to the American business world on American terms.

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