Alibaba is slowly lifting the veil on its U.S. marketplace 11Main.com, which is hoping to launch publicly next month. Some merchants have received emails informing them that their shop is “open and ready for orders” after several months of testing and events where “friends and family” could make purchases from the sellers’ shops.
The marketplace has been funding promotions as an incentive for shoppers to make purchases. “That means your customers get a discount at no cost to you,” it explained in the letter to sellers. “11 Main discounts will be deducted from the amount you receive at the time of the order, and then paid to you based on your Payout Preferences.”
One 11 Main seller told EcommerceBytes that during the beta period, they received orders in which the purchasers received a 15% discount on all items, and 11 Main reimbursed the seller for the discount.
In spite of the fact it hasn’t publicly launched, 11 Main is running ads on Google. Searches for “11Main.com” or “11 Main” bring back ads that feature the headline “11Main.com – Quality Products @ 11Main and a tagline, “Express Your Unique Self at 11Main. Today. Quality Products. Show Now!” or, “Shop Unique Styles To Fit Everyone. Buy Now for the Hottest Trends!”
Similar ads are running on Bing, with ads featuring the headline, “Shop At 11 Main Today – Shop Unique Styles To Fit Everyone” and a tagline, “Buy Now for the Hottest Trends!”
The company is also using social channels to showcase artisanal and unique merchandise for sale by its merchants. One 11 Main seller, Ianthe Mauro, tweeted a link to a video produced by the marketplace and uploaded to YouTube called, “Shop Owner Stories: Objects With Purpose,” where she was featured speaking about her wearable candles she listed on 11Main.com.
The 11 Main site describes itself as an “invite-only marketplace” featuring items that “help express one’s personal style” from a hand-selected collection of shops and boutiques in a variety of categories, including Fashion & Style, Home & Outdoor, Jewelry & Watches, Baby & Kids, Collecting & Art, and Crafts, Hobbies & Toys.
The site is taking a curation approach, made popular by sites such as Fab.com. Helping with merchandising are two former Walmart managers. Michelle Geller is Vice President of Merchandising at 11 Main and had spent 5 years as Director and Senior Merchandise Manager for Walmart eCommerce. And Kim Brown, Director of Merchandising for 11 Main, was a Senior Buyer at Walmart for 7 years.
Geller’s primary focus, according to the company’s description of her role, “is to create a unique and compelling shopping experience for 11 Main shoppers.” The description continues, “Blending her long-time love for fashion with her vast knowledge of online retail merchandising, Michelle drives expert curation and dynamic product assortment at 11 Main.”
Among the roles yet to fill are Seller Experience Operations Manager, Merchant Engagement Marketing Manager and Vice President of Strategic Partnerships. The Seller Experience Manager “will lead efforts to develop policies, processes, and tools that will create a great experience for 11 Main’s seller partners” and will work on “seller on-boarding, merchant communications, account management tools and sales performance analytics.”
The Merchant Engagement Marketing Manager will develop and execute merchant facing communications, merchant training and acquisition marketing programs. Essential functions include developing seller engagement programs; communications, webinars, events, round-tables, seller summits etc.; enabling streamlined seller acquisition and lead generation.
The Vice President of Strategic Partnerships will drive strategic business relationships that attract and benefit the consumer and merchant community at 11 Main. The VP will work on 3 key partnership areas:
- Buyer Demand Partnerships: Develop consumer demand generating partnerships;
- On Site Partnerships: Identify and cultivate synergistic partnerships that generate incremental opportunities for our community and 11 Main while improving the experience;
- Merchant/Product Acquisition: Identify partners that can expand the merchant base and/or product base by nurturing relationships with merchant communities and ecommerce platform providers wanting increased exposure for select merchants through 11 Main.
The curation approach puts control into the hands of 11 Main and can help maintain quality of listings. However, it can be extremely frustrating to merchants who are unsure of why some of their items are being accepted and others rejected – see, Alibaba’s 11Main.com Remains an Enigma to Sellers. It also means that at least for now, 11 Main is taking more of an Etsy approach rather than an eBay approach.
Another seller we spoke to said she had sold nothing during several sales events on 11 Main. She echoed some of the sentiment expressed by other sellers: she does not understand why some of her products were not approved to sell, and she has had a positive experience dealing with customer service reps. She had been told in February they were expecting to open at the end of May. And while she said she had high expectations for the marketplace once it gets rolling, she tempered her enthusiasm. “I have been involved with new venues before and I know it is going to take a lot of advertising to bring in buyers.”