11 Main is going live just as Alibaba prepares to go public. Although it's not well-known in the United States, Alibaba is a powerhouse that helped drive the rise of e-commerce in China, a transformation that has given millions of households greater access to clothes, books and consumer electronics in a society that in the 1980s still required ration tickets for some supermarket items. The 15-year-old company has navigated technical and financial challenges and a battle with eBay to become the world's biggest online bazaar and is now planning to sell stock in the U.S. Analysts say its initial public offering — planned for later this year — could raise up to $20 billion.
The site's layout is clutter free and without ads, similar to social-media sharing site Pinterest. Shoppers can browse or search by category or retailer. The site features video profiles of some of the small businesses along with its products to give users a sense of what the stores and their owners are like.
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Without ads or retailer fees, 11 Main plans to generate revenue by taking a 3.5 percent cut of each transaction. In return, retailers get 11 Main's national marketing power and reach.
"We want the shops to represent the diversity of Main Street. Some shops are high-end boutiques and some are more vintage," said Mike Effle, president and general manager of 11 Main.