Alibaba is busy on two fronts this week. In addition to buying browser-maker UC Web in what it claims is China’s largest tech acquisition, the company has opened the doors of its first direct-to-consumer online store in the US.
We first reported on 11 Main in February this year. The US retail store is run by two Alibaba affiliates in the US, Vendio and Auctiva, and has opened in beta today to selected users. The site connects retail brands across a range of categories with consumers using similar mechanics as Alibaba’s hugely successful T-Mall business in China.
Essentially, retailers are left to manage the details of their store — meaning that they are responsible for pricing the goods, handling logistics and other processes with the exception of payments. The site does not accept payment via Alipay, Alibaba’s affiliated payments platform, but it will be interesting to see if that changes in the future, and whether there is other synergy with T-Mall and other Alibaba businesses.
11 Main general manager Mike Effle told the Financial Times this week that the site is “really inspired by the Main Street experience.” Effle says 11 Main is hand-selecting the retailers that will appear on the site, initially at least, to add some exclusivity. (Exclusivity seems to be at the core of 11 Main, given the ‘request an invite’ feature on its holding page, for those not part of the beta.)
Though 11 Main is Alibaba’s first consumer-facing business in the US, the company has offered its AliExpress services in overseas markets — including the US — for some while. It has also made a series of investments in US-based tech companies, including participation in Lyft’s recent $250 million funding round, and taking the lead in chat app company’s Tango recent $280 million financing.
As we pointed out last week, Alibaba’s global plans seem to be focused around expanding its logistics and payments reach, while keeping its China-based services at the forefront of its offerings. Nonetheless, its experiences with 11 Main will be interesting. Though it’s a small-scale, startup-like business, it will almost certainly shape Alibaba’s eventual US plans. Indeed, this could well be a test run before a potential acquisition, as Re/Code points out.
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