Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group recently introduced its U.S. e-commerce site, 11Main.com. Like its parent company Alibaba, 11 Main operates by letting other retailers and businesses sell goods through its platform in exchange for a small portion of the proceeds. 11 Main offers shops in a variety of categories including fashion & style, home & outdoor, jewelry & watches, baby & kids, collecting & art, and crafts, hobbies & toys. Buying and/or selling goods on 11 Main requires an invitation.
Having recently secured an invite to become an 11 Main customer (all it takes is an email address), I decided to evaluate the online customer experience, not including order fulfillment. Following is a brief overview of three pros and two cons from a customer experience perspective.
Pro #1: Quick, Easy & Personal
The site loads very quickly, including high-quality product images. Although the front page is somewhat busy, the overall layout is clean and easy to navigate. Short videos provide back stories of the small shops and boutiques that dominate 11 Main, adding a personal touch.
Pro #2: No Advertisers Need Apply
11 Main does not yet run any advertisements on the site. Unlike competing shopping platforms such as Amazon.com, Google and EBay, there are no banner ads along the corners of the site. The customer experience is thus more relaxed and focused, and actually closer to the in-store experience of shopping at a small boutique.
Pro #3: Customer Control
Customers have a lot of control over their 11Main experience. Products can be arranged by most relevant, recently added, alphabetical order from A-Z or Z-A, low or high price, by shop or by item. A quick view feature allows users to pull up a window of a product and add it to their “bag” (the 11Main term for a shopping cart). The shopping bag stays full unless the customer empties it and appears as a small icon in the upper-right-hand side of the page.
In a particularly handy and interactive feature, customers can directly send questions to individual 11Main vendors.
Con #1: Focused on Fashion
11Main is heavily oriented toward displaying fashion merchandise, which is understandable given the prevalence of specialty boutique retailers among its merchants. However, the tech/gadgets category does not make its first appearance until halfway down the front page. And while individual customers can arrange product displays in a wide variety of formats (as mentioned above), the initial front page assortment seems heavily tilted toward pricier items.
Con #2: Path to Purchase
Oddly, 11Main’s navigation becomes much less user-friendly once the consumer reaches the all-important checkout stage. Purchasing an item is a four-step process involving selecting items from the shopping bag, selecting shipping and billing options, paying, and then confirming the purchase. Not an awful process, but a little clunkier than that of other leading e-commerce platforms.