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Alibaba’s 11Main.com Remains an Enigma to Sellers

It’s been 3 months since we wrote about Alibaba’s forthcoming U.S. marketplace, and sellers who have participated in the testing say they are in the dark about exactly what type of marketplace 11 Mainis shaping up to become. Sellers are puzzled by the products 11 Main is rejecting, and some say that while the customer service is top notch, it’s more difficult to list items than they would have expected.

Larry Phillips has been selling on eBay for the past 15 years, and also sells on Delcampe and BidStart as well as his own website, 4Stampsales.com. He decided to try 11Main.com because he felt it could compete effectively with eBay and Amazon since it was owned by Alibaba. “Competition is good for all sellers, so I wanted – and still want- to see them succeed,” he said.

Phillips was accepted into 11 Main’s stamp category and was told, “Nothing under $30, and no collections.” That reduced his pool of eligible items listed on eBay from 17,000 to less than 100. 11 Main’s Collectibles Category Manager then rejected almost half of the items it had initially accepted because they were “mass produced stamps, that continue to be produced, they do not increase, and sometimes to not maintain their monetary value. They do not meet our “value” guidelines, which are more than just monetary.”

That statement from the category manager, combined with what Phillips called the manager’s “lack of any experience in the Collectibles world,” led him to decide to cease selling on the site.

Phillips said he was told that 11 Main was trying to differentiate itself from eBay. “During one of my conversations with the Category Manager, he indicated that eBay buyers are looking for a bargain, and are not discerning buyers. He indicated that 11Main wants to be different. The analogy I would use is that they consider eBay the equivalent of a Wal-Mart, and want 11Main to be the equivalent of a Nordstroms.”

Why eBay Sellers Are Rooting for 11 Main 
Other sellers also viewed 11 Main as being a positive force, believing it would force eBay and Amazon to be more seller-friendly.

“When I heard 11 Main was an offshoot of Alibaba, I knew it was going to be a serious contender,” said Eric Saeger of Cyberontix.com. After his sales on eBay dropped 35% (he blames the decline on Cassini), he’s been working on his own website, doing more on Amazon, and trying out Etsy.

Saeger said he didn’t yet know what kind of marketplace 11 Main was trying to be, but said it seemed to only want proven eBay/Amazon sellers, and he surmised they only wanted sellers with a “rock-solid reputation and great merchandise.”

One eBay PowerSeller contacted for an update told EcommerceBytes he was hoping Alibaba founder Jack Ma would “come to the rescue” of small American sellers. “I think he is charismatic in Chinese community. I honestly hope he would be as passionate to the American sellers.” He also said competition provided by 11 Main “would surely break eBay monopolistic behaviour.”

Another seller said she hoped 11 Main would attract shoppers, leading to more sales. “I was initially very happy to hear about 11 Main….especially since eBay sales have been dismal for over a year,” she said, though like others, she was frustrated by the items 11 Main rejected. “There is really no list of what is acceptable and what is not,” she said.

Listing Process 
Phillips was required to open a Vendio account at no charge as a way to upload his listings. “The Vendio tool was fine,” he said, however, he received error messages. “Also, I had to create a flat file which didn’t include the items they would not permit to be listed. This made it a time-consuming manual process for me.”

Saeger said he was still formulating the first upload. “I don’t like that there isn’t a simple web interface for adding new items to test it out – of course, if there is, we haven’t seen anything about it. Regardless, no one here has time to do the tinkering and testing. There are a ton of fields in there, and as it’s in a spreadsheet format, there’s a lot of clicking and reality-checking to do for each atom of data. I’m sure this will be addressed, so I certainly am not enraged about it – 11 Main is basically in beta as it is, from what I understand.”

A seller who said they would not pursue further activity on 11 Main said, “I’m waiting for big changes before I even consider them.” He had to do listing management through Vendio, Alibaba’s California-based subsidiary, which he found “clunky and slow.” 11 Main representatives told him they were in the process of simplifying the listing management process.

“All my listings are nearly one of a kind items so bulk listing does nothing for me,” he said. “Until the listing management process is efficient and quick, I have no interest in them.”

He also noted there were more stringent guidelines for photos and specifications for when sellers can use the terms “vintage” or “antique,” which he felt were somewhat arbitrary.

Another seller who didn’t follow through with selling on 11 Main since first contacted by EcommerceBytes in February said, “Initially I had so much trouble trying to get my account set up. Then trying to list items for sale was too complicated for me, and I don’t have the time to go through all the steps required. On the plus side, 11 Main did communicate with emails and phone calls.”

Pros and Cons, Hope and Dreams 
Saeger’s greatest concern was whether 11 Main would provide exposure to international shoppers. “International exposure is why we’re all-in on eBay rather than Amazon at this point – around 1/3 of our orders are international. Therefore if 11 Main is just going to be Amazon with twice the work, we might not do much with it.” What does he want from a marketplace? International exposure, low fees, and some advertising backup.”

A positive aspect of 11 Main was the fee structure, according to Phillips, who said the challenge of selling on 11 Main was an overly restrictive definition of the term “Collectible,” which he believed would keep buyers away from the site.

One seller reported his application was rejected because 11main.com doesn’t sell electronics items.

The seller who expressed frustration about the types of items 11 Main rejected said she couldn’t get a handle on what type of marketplace it wanted to be. “When I look around, I see sellers of antiques and items similar to what I sell but yet they won’t take all of my listings, so I think I’m just frustrated with it at this point and haven’t put much more time into it. I listed a few extra items since the initial import and they were rejected so I just figured I would wait it out and see what happens after they are actually open.”

In response to our latest inquiry, spokesperson Abbygail Reyes said, “11 Main continues to focus on creating a compelling platform and quality experience for both merchants and consumers. We do not have any additional news to share at this time.”

An “About Us” page reveals that Auctiva founder and former CEO Jeff Schlicht is CEO of 11 Main, and Vendio CEO Mike Effle is President and General Manager of the company.

EcommerceBytes broke the story about the existence of 11 Main on February 9th and did a follow-up on February 20th, eBay Sellers Provide Update on Alibaba-Backed Marketplace, before Alibaba filed its registration prior to its planned Initial Public Offering in this country.

Saeger said he hoped 11 Main doesn’t end up being “Alibaba’s Taobao with a fake moustache,” and he hoped 11 Main’s search engine was “more intelligent, more keyword-oriented, and doesn’t fixate on newest entries the way eBay’s Cassini does.”

Phillips said he wishes 11 Main nothing but success, and said, “if they become a significant force in the world of ecommerce, it will probably result in both eBay and Amazon adopting more seller friendly practices, whether that be fee reductions or less restrictive selling policies.”

Article was updated on 5/13/14 to include a comment from 11 Main.

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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/.