11 Main
Alibaba is taking a ride on Main Street on its way to Wall Street with 11 Main. Courtesy of 11 Main

Alibaba is taking a ride on Main Street on its way to Wall Street.

The Chinese online retailer Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd. launched its first online shopping space in the U.S. Wednesday with a relatively small site called 11 Main, an Internet shopping destination that highlights small American business believed to best represent those on the proverbial Main Street, USA. Alibaba heralds one of the biggest-ever initial public offerings in history, but 11 Main is a relatively small step into the American market.

Keith Bliss, senior vice president of Cuttone & Company, one of the largest floor brokers on the NYSE, told IBTimes that since Alibaba is so large -- bigger than Amazon and eBay combined -- 11 Main is a safe move into a new marketplace, though it still has potential to take on the big dogs.

“[Alibaba] is so successful already, they have the benefit of taking things slowly in the largest, developed retail market in the world so they can get it right instead of starting out with a big splash and potentially getting it wrong,” Bliss said.

Currently only available to beta testers via a requested invitation, the San Mateo, California-based 11 Main offers a selection of curated products exclusively from small businesses and boutiques selling everything from clothing, jewelry, and home décor to sporting goods and toys. Think of it as a curated Amazon with an interface similar to visual discovery site Pinterest.

Mike Effle, 11 Main president and general manager, told IBTimes that 11 Main is “not a retailer,” meaning it does not make its own products, but rather an online destination that “invites discovery” for a diverse set of selected shops.

“Just [as] on Main Street where you are able to walk in and out of shops, learn about them, meet the knowledgeable shop owners and identify what products meet your individual sense of personality and style… we’re inspired by that Main Street shopping experience.”

Effle said 11 Main will offer “hundreds of thousands” of products from 1,000 to 2,000 upscale specialty shops. By contrast, Amazon sold 36.8 million items on Cyber Monday, Dec. 2, in 2013 alone.

But Effle insisted that 11 Main is not trying to compete with Amazon or even Etsy, an e-commerce site focusing on handmade and vintage goods; he said it was merely established to “fill a void" in the online marketplace with a hand-selected collection of shops.

Bliss believes 11 Main can compete with the Amazon and eBay, though, as well as marketplaces as well as the much smaller Etsy, which shares a similar online boutique atmosphere.

“[11 Main] will be more expansive than Etsy in that we will likely see high quality national brands involved in addition to boutique purveyors,” Bliss said. He said Alibaba likely thought up 11 Main to try to replicate its most successful Chinese e-commerce business-to-consumer site, Tmall.com, which he likened to a “Chinese 11 Main.”

Effle disagreed with Bliss, saying 11 Main and Tmall share two principles -- a “commitment to keep it an affordable place for vendors and a focus on the shop owner" -- but denied any further similarities.

And though some of the stores on the 11 Main, like Art By Nan B based in Spring, Texas, also sell their work on Etsy, Effle said doesn’t see 11 Main as an expanded version of Etsy.

Etsy declined to comment for this article.

In May, Alibaba filed for an initial public offering in the U.S., which is expected to raise $15 billion to $20 billion and surpass Facebook’s $16 billion offering in 2012.

Bliss said to expect more offerings from Alibaba as it continues to expand its presence outside its home market in China.

“Once Alibaba gets going [in the U.S.], look for them to supply online commerce channels that will compete across a vast landscape of products and categories,” he said.