Amazon to start letting Prime members use benefits on other shopping sites

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Amazon has announced a new program that will let Prime members use their free shipping perks on select non-Amazon sites.

Initially, the program, called “Buy with Prime,” will be available to select merchants who use Amazon’s fulfillment services and operate their own shopping sites. To start, the program is by invitation only to eligible merchants and will only be available in the U.S.

Eventually, the service will be made available to the broader pool of merchants that don’t use Amazon fulfillment services.

Amazon is charging a fee on orders placed with the program, which it says will be based on volume and other factors. It will not require a monthly fee or a long-term contract, but Amazon is not disclosing the fee structure.

From the consumer standpoint, shoppers can expect to see bright blue “Buy with Prime” buttons added to eligible product pages. In mockups released by Amazon, these will also include a notation of the expected delivery date.

Clicking the button will trigger an accelerated checkout experience that will require the user to log in to their Amazon account to verify their Prime membership, if necessary.

It’s not immediately clear what ecommerce platforms Buy with Amazon will support or if, at some point, it might be made available to independent sellers who use platforms such as Shopify, BigCommerce or Squarespace.

Amazon says that it will also handle returns and exchanges for merchants on eligible items, which is already offers for products it sells on its own site.

On a broader scale, Amazon likely sees the Buy with Prime program as a way to collect more revenue from outside its existing streams as well as a way to bring more value to Prime members.

The membership program has seen regular price hikes and currently costs $139 a year, which includes free expedited shipping on millions of items plus access to Amazon Prime Video and a variety of other services and features.

In some ways, the program is priced in line with warehouse club memberships, except that Prime customers generally don’t pay significantly lower prices except for special sales available only to members.

The program will also put Amazon in competition with subscription based services that charge users a fee to unlock free shipping and, in some cases, other benefits on a network of sites that it has agreements with.

Amazon says it has nearly 150 million Prime members in the U.S.