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Alibaba Close to Launching eBay-Style Marketplace in US

A new Alibaba subsidiary is close to launching a marketplace in the U.S. and has been on-boarding third-party sellers since late last year, EcommerceBytes has learned. 11Main.com has hand-picked eBay sellers to participate in the pre-launch phase.

The marketplace is called 11 Main to connote “Main Street” shopping from friendly mom and pop retailers. The plan is to charge charges sellers a 3.5% commission fee when an item sells with a $50 cap. There is no charge for selling printed books, DVDs and music. 11 Main is also actively encouraging sellers to consider lowering their prices since its selling fees are lower than eBay’s. While 11 Main does have a 5-cent listing fee per month in certain categories, those fees are waived for sellers who use its selling tools.

Chinese ecommerce company Alibaba had acquired eBay listing tools Auctiva and Vendio in 2010. The companies, both headquartered in California, gave it instant access to over 250,000 eBay sellers who at the time processed over $7 billion in GMV annually and were responsible for an estimated 5 – 10 percent of eBay’s listings. 11 Main is leveraging the companies both for their technology and their seller base as it builds out the new marketplace.

Many companies have tried to go up against eBay and failed due to the difficulty in attracting shoppers. The new marketplace has told sellers it will help them attract new buyers with special offers and advertising opportunities, some funded by 11 Main. In addition, sellers who bring a first-time buyer to the site will be able to transact with that buyer for free for 2 years.

Sellers who spoke to EcommerceBytes on condition of anonymity said they were excited about 11 Main, believing it could be a viable competitor to eBay. “When I hear that the biggest internet presence in China is behind this, that’s an attention getter,” said one. “That makes it real and different from all the other competitors. They have the money and time to make it work.” He said the site has an Esty look to it rather than being a clone of eBay.

Another seller said many of the storefronts look like mom and pop types – “what eBay used to be.” Sellers are allowed to upload banners and logos – and items are arranged “Pinterest-style,” she said.

The marketplace is also playing up the stories of the sellers, an approach that Rakuten has adopted in Japan and elsewhere and has tried to expand to its U.S. marketplace. The new marketplace informs sellers, “As an 11 Main shop owner, you are far more than a username. Your brand identity is associated with every item you sell. Every connection with a buyer is a personal one. Shoppers love hearing shop owners describe their journey, passion and point of view. Your identity shines through in your shop at 11 Main, through your products, your content, your logo and your story.”

Some sellers who have been invited to list on 11 Main told EcommerceBytes the process is easy. They first import their eBay listings, and as they continue to list on eBay through Auctiva’s tool, those listings are also automatically uploaded to the 11 Main platform. A pre-launch screenshot obtained by EcommerceBytes shows the following categories featured on the homepage: Fashion, Home, Jewelry, Baby, Collecting, Tech, Sporting Goods, Toys and Entertainment.

eBay has had to face the reality that most sellers now list items across multiple venues – in fact, it is wooing large brands and retail chains, encouraging them to be multichannel and omnichannel. But how it will react when it learns Auctiva is helping eBay sellers seamlessly list on a competitive marketplace isn’t clear. While large eBay Diamond sellers are allowed to include branding on listings, eBay restricts smaller sellers from branding themselves, fearful of off-eBay transactions and a holdover from its early days.

Alibaba’s 11 Main will also find itself competing against other marketplaces besides eBay. Amazon has succeed in attracting a vibrant base of third-party sellers, though it eschews used goods and is more restrictive than eBay in many categories such as clothing and jewelry. Rakuten’s U.S. marketplace, the result of its acquisition of Buy.com, has yet to become a household name. Etsy has managed to carve out a space in categories ignored by Amazon: handmade and vintage/collectibles.

How big is Alibaba? Reuters reported on Saturday that Alibaba controls nearly 80 percent of China’s internet shopping market and that its Alipay payments unit completed more mobile payment transactions in 2013 than U.S.-based PayPal and Square Inc. combined.

Before its official launch, 11 Main plans a “private launch” when it will open to sellers’ friends and family for a special invitation-only preview.

Alibaba and 11 Main declined to comment for this story.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.