SAN MATEO, CA: Chinese internet giant Alibaba has taken another step into the US market with the launch of 11 Main, an online marketplace for specialty shops and boutiques.

The invitation-only site aims to recreate the Main Street shopping experience online and to bring "something incredibly unique to the US market".

Mike Effle, president 11 Main, downplayed suggestions that the new venture would offer a direct challenge to existing sites like eBay and Amazon. "There are many small shop owners that are looking for broader platforms, but when they look at the broader platforms, those are not necessarily structured to support their brands or their identities," he told the Wall Street Journal.

Alibaba, the world's largest ecommerce company, dominates the ecommerce sector in China with its Tmall and Taobao sites, although these are reported to have experienced some problems with counterfeit goods. The Washington Post suggested that might be one reason for the decision to make 11 Main invitation only and to screen merchants and products.

"We set a very high bar," Effle said. "Sellers want a place that can elevate their brands."

Some analysts expressed caution, noting that the US marketplace was already crowded, with businesses incurring high marketing expenses to rise above the clutter. But with 11 Main targeting a particular niche in the online universe and Alibaba having deep pockets, these are unlikely to be major hindrances.

11 Main said it had a "robust marketing plan" to support the growth of the stores featured on the new site, but declined to give any details.

In recent months Alibaba has been increasing its presence in the US ahead of a planned IPO, taking investments in online retailer ShopRunner and app search engine Quixey.

Data sourced from 11 Main, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post; additional content by Warc staff