Alibaba announced today that the firm’s new U.S.-focused “11 Main” online shopping portal will be opening for business very soon. In related news, the Chinese ecommerce giant is planning a $20 billion initial public offering in the next few months.

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The new ecommerce outlet is designed as an online marketplace something along the lines of Alibaba’s current TMall, that offers consumers a series of virtual store fronts run by merchants who set their own prices and completely manage their own business operations except for payment.

Statement from 11 Main General Manager

In a recent interview, 11 Main’s American General Manager Mike Effle was unabashedly enthusiastic about the new project. “11 Main was really inspired by the ‘Main Street’ experience,” said Mr Effle. “We are hand selecting…and really telling the story of these shops.”

Alibaba’s 11 Main: Start small and grow

According to Effle, 11 Main will be beginning by focusing on a limited number of product categories, including fashion, home and collectibles. Most of the vendors at 11 Main are mall merchants, a few operating online-only, but many with bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. The plan is that both marketing and sales will increase gradually to assist small merchants in managing their businesses. Furthermore, all customers will also be asked to request an invitation to shop before using the site, at least for the first few months of the roll out.

At this time, 11 Main is only planning to work with U.S. retailers and only shipping to U.S. customers, but Effle said it is possible that 11 Main could eventually assist Alibaba in connecting Chinese consumers with U.S. and international businesses.

Possible future Alipay tie in

Effle also specifically stated that the site would not accept payments by Alipay (Alibaba’s PayPal equivalent) at this point. He did, however, make a point of not ruling out the possibility of integrating Alipay into 11 Main’s payment options in the future.