Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Amazon Starts Prime Service in China to Compete With Alibaba

  • Free delivery of overseas goods for Chinese subscribers
  • Membership fee stands at 388 yuan a year for Chinese users

Amazon.com Inc. has started offering its Prime free-shipping service in China, ratcheting up attempts to compete with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. for the rising number of shoppers hankering after overseas goods.

From Friday, Chinese Prime subscribers get free shipping on orders exceeding 200 yuan ($29.50) on millions of eligible overseas goods, the company said in an e-mailed statement. Domestic goods will also be delivered free and a membership costs 388 yuan a year, lower than the U.S. fee of $99. Amazon China representative Wu Shanhan said membership won’t include access to any digital content.

Since its inception in 2005, Amazon Prime has attracted more than 65 million members in the U.S. with free delivery perks and access to a growing library of videos and music. The program has been credited with fostering customer loyalty, driving spending and has been steadily expanded over the years to include digital content.

Amazon, which has made little headway against Alibaba, is focusing on the demands of a growing middle-class seeking better-quality goods from abroad. Amazon’s global logistics network will manage shipping and final delivery to each Chinese customer, it said. Packages are estimated to arrive within five to nine days in 82 cities across the country, with single orders of more than 2,000 yuan requiring additional time, the company added.

The introduction of Prime also comes as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. intensifies a battle with its online rival in India and China.

After unsuccessful efforts to scale its own e-commerce network, Wal-Mart has launched several initiatives through a tie-up with JD.com Inc., Alibaba’s closest domestic rival. With that partnership, the U.S. retailer said it will now be able to deliver goods ranging from American vitamins to Japanese hand cream to more than 90 percent of China’s 1.4 billion consumers.

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