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An Interview with Alibaba’s 11 Main President Mike Effle

We first broke the news about Alibaba’s new U.S. marketplace back in February, and for the first time, the company announced the availability of the site this week. We sat down for a quick chat with 11 Main President and General Manager Mike Effle during the Internet Retailer conference in Chicago on Wednesday and asked him what kind of shopping destination he envisioned for 11Main.com.

Many readers will know Effle as the head of Vendio, and we were curious what eBay might have said to Vendio and its sister company Auctiva about their new marketplace, given the fact the two companies’ main businesses are helping merchants to sell on the eBay marketplace.

“We haven’t had a conversation with eBay,” Effle said.

You still can’t get to Alibaba’s new U.S. marketplace without a special invitation, and it remains in beta testing. Effle would not commit as to whether 11Main.com would always remain an invitation-only marketplace for shoppers. As for the slow rollout, “We want to make sure we get the experience right,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot.”

Effle said the site was inspired by the Main Street shopping experience.

In conducting research, Effle said they were struck by the fact that 87% of merchants said they wanted a new place to sell. Merchants were looking for a less expensive alternative, and one that would allow them to express their identity so they weren’t competing solely on price.

Consumers, meanwhile, had told them they wanted a place to shop that offered compelling shops, sellers, and stories. 11 Main made the decision to hand select shops and boutiques, ones that have a history of delivering with products that resonated and stories about how they started their businesses, Effle said. Trust is a major factor with shoppers.

The 11 Main team started with Auctiva and Vendio merchants, but those now comprise only half of their merchants. The other 50% are new relationships brought on by 11 Main’s merchandising team – who in some cases reached out to merchants they wanted to bring on board.

What should sellers know about what 11 Main is looking for in terms of merchants?

  • A history of delivering to customers;
  • Products that resonate with shoppers;
  • And a story, such as how the merchant got started selling online.

Effle said 11 Main was very selective at the beginning, with a fairly low acceptance rate. “That’s not to say 11 Main is not a place for them,” he said, though there are certain categories they don’t support, such as Automotive Parts & Accessories.

Some shops have done things 11 Main has requested – in some cases, reshooting product photographs or taking a look at how they described products.

One thing 11 Main is not looking for is arbitrageurs – people who go to retail stores buying different items to resell online. But they do fully support vintage sellers. And the site will always remain invitation-only for merchants.

For sellers, the million-dollar question is how 11 Main will attract shoppers. Effle said building the consumer experience was of utmost importance. But how will it bring shoppers to the site in the first place? He pointed out that 11 Main was backed by a large company with resources – Alibaba – and said they had created a diversified marketing mix, and in some cases, are working in concert with shop owners.

Effle made no promises as to when 11Main.com would reach a critical mass of shoppers. It would continue to test and learn as it expands the number of buyers on the site. What about the all-important holiday shopping season? He made no promises, saying only that 11 Main would continue to grow and learn between now and the holidays.

The company described its marketplace in its first press release issued this week, helpful in understanding how it is positioning the site to shoppers.

For an early merchant perspective, take a look at Alibaba’s 11Main.com Remains an Enigma to Sellers from the May 13th issue of EcommerceBytes Newsflash.

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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/.