SINGAPORE - American e-commerce giant Amazon launched its Prime membership programme for Singapore on Wednesday (Dec 6), ending a four-year period of blanket free shipping to the Republic.
Under the Free AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping option, shoppers in Singapore and Mexico were previously eligible for free international shipping with a minimum order of US$125 for qualifying merchandise.
But with the launch of Amazon Prime, "unlimited free international shipping will now be exclusively a Prime member benefit moving forward", Amazon told The Straits Times.
An Amazon customer service officer contacted through the website's live chat function on Tuesday (Dec 5) said that free shipping to Singapore ended on Monday (Dec 4). A message on the checkout page of Amazon's US store now states that "items shipped to addresses outside the US are not eligible for free shipping."
Singapore will be the 16th country - and the first in South-east Asia - to launch Amazon Prime, which gives members perks such as free shipping and access to other services for a monthly or yearly fee.
Prime members here will be eligible for free international shipping on orders above $60 of more than five million items from Amazon's US store, which will be made available on the Prime Now mobile app. The Singapore Prime membership benefits do not apply to items bought on Amazon websites in other countries.
The e-commerce player made its first foray into the region with the launch of its fast delivery service Prime Now in July. The service, which offers free two-hour delivery from its local warehouse with a minimum order of $40, will also be made exclusive for members.
Streaming service Amazon Prime Video and gaming subscription service Twitch Prime will be bundled as part of the membership.
The Prime membership here will cost $8.99 per month. But for a limited period, it will go for $2.99 a month, although Amazon did not specify for how long.
While existing Amazon Prime Video subscribers in Singapore will not be forced into joining Prime, it will no longer be available for subscription as a standalone service.
Prime membership in the US costs US$10.99 a month or US$99 a year, and provides access to a slew of services such as music streaming, free same-day delivery and even restaurant delivery in certain areas.
Customers who do not have a Prime membership in the US can, however, enjoy free delivery within the country for orders totalling US$25 or more on eligible items.
Speaking to The Straits Times in a phone interview on Tuesday (Dec 5), Amazon Prime International's vice president Jamil Ghani said that more benefits will be added over time for Prime membership in Singapore.
"The Prime programme in every geography is custom designed for that region... (Singapore customers) are hyper-connected and mobile-first," said Mr Ghani, who declined to comment on whether a local Amazon online store is forthcoming.
"We have been very encouraged by the strong response and adoption of Prime Now over the last several months," he added.
Mr Ghani acknowledged that some living here already have Amazon Prime memberships for the US site, but encouraged "anyone living in Singapore to leverage the Prime membership package developed specifically for Singapore".
Prime membership is country-specific and not transferable, he added, meaning that those with US Prime memberships cannot convert them to local ones.
Lazada, the region's largest e-commerce site, launched its own membership programme in April called LiveUp in anticipation of Amazon's entry to Singapore. LiveUp now has "hundreds of thousands" of members, said Lazada.
It offers users benefits such as rebates and discounts for RedMart, Netflix, Uber, UberEats and Taobao Collection.
On the new Prime membership launched in Singapore, some consumers took issue with the selection of products and services currently available.
Regular Amazon shopper J. Tan, 38, said that he signed up for Prime's 30-day trial, but was not likely to continue beyond the free period.
"I checked and realised that many products that they shipped to Singapore for free previously are not included in the Prime Now app, so it feels more like a subtraction rather than an addition to their offerings in Singapore," said the administrative assistant.
Some items he had been eyeing, such as the Nintendo Switch game console and the Nvidia Shield TV, are listed on the US Amazon webstore but not available on the Singapore Prime Now app yet. And with Prime's launch here, they no longer qualify for free shipping to Singapore if bought from the US store.
Previously, he would also combine several purchases into one order to meet the US$125 threshold for free shipping.
Mr Amos Tan, a Singapore Polytechnic senior lecturer in marketing and retail, said that while the monthly fee is in line with the amount charged by other digital services, instituting a membership fee for free shipping will likely result in Amazon losing some customers here.
"This removal of free shipping for non-members is their way of trying to lock in more customers, which I think they have the ability to do because Amazon has a wide variety of offerings," he said.
But Mr Tan said that for consumers who find that products they used to get from Amazon are no longer available with Prime's launch here, it will be difficult to lock them in with the new membership.
For some consumers like events coordinator Mabel Tan, 26, being limited to shop and enjoy free shipping as a Prime member on Amazon's Prime Now app is a downer.
"I...prefer to browse on my laptop where I can open different tabs to compare items, rather than on my phone," she said.
"(Prime) Video is the only service I would use now... But there is not enough draw yet; if they add more products and services, I will consider the membership."