Amazon will extend Prime shipping benefits, and its own reach, to independent e-commerce sites

Amazon’s Buy with Prime program will extend Prime checkout and shipping benefits to independent e-commerce sites. (Amazon Photo)

A new Amazon program will let Prime members buy items on non-Amazon e-commerce sites just as they would on, including streamlined checkout and free delivery of items as soon as the next day.

It’s part of a broader effort by Amazon to extend its shipping operations beyond its own digital walls, competing more directly with UPS and FedEx — a move that analysts have been anticipating since last year.

The program, announced Wednesday night, will let merchants put a “Buy with Prime” button next to eligible items on their own e-commerce sites.

At first, it will be available only by invitation to those who use the Fulfillment by Amazon warehouse and shipping service, but it will eventually be open even to merchants that don’t, the company said.

“Participating merchants will display the Prime logo and expected delivery date on eligible products in their own online store, offer a simple, convenient checkout experience using Amazon Pay, and leverage Amazon’s fulfillment network to deliver orders,” explained Amazon VP Peter Larsen. “Amazon will also manage free returns for eligible orders.”

Amazon is touting the program as an added benefit for Prime members.

The company also sees it as business boost for merchants who sell directly to consumers, giving them new inroads to the more than 200 million Prime members, while making it easier and therefore more likely for shoppers to complete a purchase.

The Buy with Prime program could also be a boon for Amazon, by generating additional revenue from a variety of merchant fees, and giving the company extra insights into the broader shopping habits of its Prime members.

However, Amazon appears to be attempting to strike a balance with merchants who take part in the program.

In an FAQ for merchants, for example, the company says Buy with Prime is designed to complement, not replace, the native checkout experience on e-commerce sites.

In addition, merchants will get key customer data about shoppers who use the program.

“With Buy with Prime, you will receive shopper order information, including email addresses for customer orders, which you can use to provide customer service and build direct relationships with shoppers,” the merchant FAQ explains.

Pricing will be on a per-unit basis, the company says, including “a service fee, a payment processing fee, and fulfillment and storage fees.”

The company says participating merchants won’t be required have the same prices and selection on their own sites as they do on, and they won’t need to sell on to participate in the program.

The announcement describes e-commerce platform BigCommerce, which entered into a partnership with Amazon last year, as a key partner in the program.

It’s the latest nod by the company to the significance of e-commerce beyond Amazon’s acquisition of e-commerce platform Selz last year, for example, seen as an attempt to counter Shopify’s growth as a platform for independent e-commerce sites.

Amazon says the Buy with Prime program will be rolled out on an invite-only basis to merchants this year.