Amazon Prime, the paid subscription service offering benefits such as free next-day delivery, discounts and streaming video, has now become available in the UAE.
The introduction of the programme follows the shift of Souq.com to Amazon.ae on May 1 – nearly two years after Souq was acquired by the US e-commerce giant for $580 million (Dh2.13 billion).
"We're very pleased to announce that the UAE will be joining the family of Prime countries on June 11," Jamil Ghani, Amazon's vice president of Prime and Marketing International, told The National.
E-commerce spending in the UAE is expected to increase by 170 per cent to $27.1bn in 2022, from $9.7bn in 2017, according to a 2018 report by Fitch Solutions Macro Research.
Amazon does not disclose the number of customers within any specific locale, but Souq.com attracted 45 million visits per month before its rebranding to Amazon.ae.
“We just launched Amazon.ae about a month ago and we’re super-excited that we’re able to launch Prime as a fast follow,” said Ronaldo Mouchawar, co-founder of Souq and vice president of Amazon Mena. “I think for the customers in the region definitely it’s a game-changer.”
UAE customers can sign up for a 30-day free trial of Prime and then pay an introductory promotional price of Dh12 per month until the end of October. Thereafter, Prime subscriptions will cost Dh16 per month or Dh140 per year.
“[Pricing] is admittedly one of the most hotly debated topics in our decision when we’re rolling out a new programme,” said Mr Ghani, who is in the UAE this week for the Prime launch. “Based on forecasts of how much members will take advantage of the shipping benefits, how much they will take advantage of the entertainment benefits, we can estimate that they will in fact get disproportionate value and we price it accordingly.”
The shipping benefits for Prime subscribers include free next-day delivery across the UAE with no minimum purchase on hundreds of thousands of products (normally a minimum purchase of Dh100 applies) and a 50 per cent discount for same-day delivery covering Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Al Ain and Ajman. Prime members will also get free delivery in six to nine business days for international orders above Dh100 on five million Prime-eligible products shipped from Amazon US.
Members will have exclusive access to shopping deals and Prime Day, Amazon’s annual global shopping event to take place some time this summer.
In entertainment, subscribers will be offered Twitch Prime and Prime Video free-of-charge. Twitch is a live-streaming platform for gamers. Prime Video, which includes Amazon Originals and international licensed content, can be viewed via the app, select smart TVs, game consoles, Fire TV stick and Apple TV. Du currently offers Prime Video for Dh132 a year.
“We look to expand that catalogue over time, but we already know that the combination of English-language content – Amazon Originals – plus content that we’re producing in India – Bollywood and otherwise – is really appealing and has gotten a great uptake here,” said Mr Ghani.
In the US, where Amazon Prime started in 2005, monthly memberships are $12.99 and yearly memberships $119, or $6.49 and $59 for students. The annual subscription has increased twice over its 14-year history in the US, from $79 to $99 to $119 in May last year.
Amazon expanded Prime to other countries in 2007, starting with Germany, Japan and the UK. The service is now offered in 18 countries and has more than 100 million subscribers.
The benefits offered vary by geography. US members have access to Prime Music, a streaming service added in 2014. This month, Amazon expanded its same-day delivery service, Prime Free One Day, to make it available on more than 10 million products with no minimum purchase for its US customers.
Prime Now, which delivers products within one hour for a fee or two hours for free, is available only in the US and other select markets, such as Singapore. The same applies to Prime Reading, a rotating library of Kindle e-books, and Prime Pantry, a service for shipping a box of non-perishable grocery store items for a flat fee.
Mr Ghani said Amazon may be adding membership benefits to the UAE, as well as other markets in the future.
“We seek to bring those programmes – Pantry and otherwise – to customers all around the world just as quickly as we can,” he said.
Souq.com’s Egypt and Saudi websites have not yet shifted to Amazon, but Mr Mouchawar said they will be next.
“Right now we’re still working … we continue to work on Arabic, to improve our service, our catalogue for the other markets,” he said. “Clearly once we’re done here we’ll start evaluating other countries as well.”
“We still have some work to do in the UAE. Obviously launching Prime was a high priority for us.”