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What is Amazon Prime? Membership benefits, prices and more

An Amazon Prime membership offers fast shipping, access to entertainment like movies and TV shows, grocery delivery and more.
Illustration of a Man holding Amazon prime packages and boxes
Amazon Prime members can shop Prime Day deals as well as take advantage of dozens of other benefits throughout the year.PURPLE MARBLES / Alamy Stock Photo

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With Prime Day 2021 slated for June 21 and 22, shoppers are gearing up to take advantage of deals on products like tech, clothing, kitchenware and more. But only Amazon Prime members have access to the exclusive sale, which incentivizes new membership sign-ups, explained Amanda Bourlier, who oversees global retailing research at market research company Euromonitor International. As we previously reported, Bourlier noted the mega retailer uses Prime Day — which Amazon created in 2015 — as a way to attract new subscribers, pitching to them Amazon’s “ecosystem of consumption,” meaning all of the services Amazon provides shoppers.

“A Prime member probably doesn’t just shop from Amazon,” Bourlier said. “In addition to shopping on Amazon, they can buy groceries from Whole Foods, listen to audiobooks with Audible, subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, watch Amazon Video and use Amazon Echo speakers.”

SKIP AHEAD Amazon Prime benefits

Amazon Prime: A short history

Amazon Prime launched in 2005, and it originally offered members benefits like two-day free shipping — the retailer charged an annual $79 for a membership initially. At the time, Bourlier said, this seemed like a pipe dream, and it has remained a substantial factor in motivating people to become Prime members. But over the years, Amazon has greatly expanded what members get when they join, like entertainment, fashion, savings and other perks.

In a letter to Amazon shareholders in April 2021, CEO Jeff Bezos (who is stepping down later this year) said there are more than 200 million Prime members worldwide. In January 2020, a little over a year ago, Amazon had more than 150 million Prime members globally, according to marketing research company Digital Commerce 360. James Thomson, a partner at marketing agency Buy Box Experts, partially attributes the approximate 33-percent increase in members to the pandemic. Not only were people forced to stay home and increasingly depend on delivery services — like Prime Delivery — to shop for everything from office supplies to food, but they could also utilize Prime Video, Music, Reading and more to stay entertained. “Quite frankly, if Covid didn’t encourage people to get a Prime membership, I don’t know what will,” Thomson said.

As the effects of the pandemic enter a turning point in many parts of the U.S. and with the upcoming Prime Day sales event, you may consider a Prime membership for yourself, your family, your children or otherwise. To help you decide whether to invest in an Amazon Prime subscription, we broke down the membership and what it offers. It’s worth noting that Amazon offers loyalty programs in the form of a store credit card and an Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, too — here’s what to know before signing up for Amazon’s credit card.

Types of Amazon Prime memberships — and what they cost

An Amazon Prime membership costs $13 a month, or you can pay $119 annually. The retailer also offers a Prime Student membership for $7 a month, which comes with exclusive offers like Amazon Music Unlimited for $0.99 a month and discounts on textbooks. To purchase a student membership, you’ll need a valid .edu email address.

The yearly Prime membership includes a 30-day free trial, which you can sign up for right before Prime Day if you haven’t previously used yours yet to get free access to the sales event and all the associated perks of Amazon Prime on whatever you buy throughout. Students can get a six-month free trial before they have to start paying for their Prime membership.

Multiple members of a family can also share Prime benefits like Prime shipping, video, photos and more through Amazon Household, which allows for up to 10 memberships:

  • 2 adults (18 or older), each with their own Amazon account
  • 4 teens (ages 13 to 17), each with their own Amazon login, which is different from an adult account in that adults can share digital content with teens and set viewing restrictions.
  • 4 children (while children can’t shop on Amazon, adults can share content like eBooks, apps, and games with children).

For a limited time, those who sign up for Prime using an Echo device will receive a $5 Amazon credit. All you have to do is say, “Alexa, sign me up for Prime.” Through June 20, Prime members can also get a $10 credit after spending $40 or more on select Prime-branded Amazon gift cards, which giftees can in turn spend on a Prime membership or other Amazon items.

Benefits of Amazon Prime memberships

According to Thomson, “The most important thing Amazon can do is drive loyalty to the Amazon marketplace.” He said the retailer does so through its Prime membership and the variety of benefits it offers, many of which are designed to offer shoppers convenience. “The company wants to get consumers to say, ‘I’m not going to walk into a physical store because it’s so much easier to buy on Amazon,’” he said.

Fast delivery and shipping

  • Free 1-day shipping: A variety of items are eligible for next-day delivery with no minimum purchase (cut off time for eligible orders varies by zip code). When you’re shopping, filter items by “Get it tomorrow” to see which you can receive by 9 p.m. the next day.
  • Free 2-day shipping: This is available to Prime members who live in the contiguous U.S.
  • Free same-day delivery: In select cities and towns — from New York City to San Francisco — Prime members can shop for items eligible for delivery on the same day they were ordered. Same-day delivery is available without a Prime membership at $13 per item. Prime members get same-day delivery for free on qualifying orders over $35.
  • Free release-date delivery: Prime members can have eligible pre-order items delivered on their release date.
  • Free no-rush shipping: Members who select no-rush shipping — which delays delivery on orders — can earn rewards to use on future purchases.

Other free delivery perks include Amazon Day, which allows you to order items throughout the week and select up to two days to get everything delivered in fewer boxes. Additionally, Prime members who live in certain zip codes can get eligible items delivered inside their home with Amazon’s Key Smart Lock Kit (currently paused due to Covid-19), or inside their garage with Amazon’s Key Smart Garage Kit. You can monitor the delivery through the Key by Amazon app, and get notifications about packages while the delivery is in process.

Deals and discounts

In addition to Prime Day itself, Prime members are eligible for Prime Early Access, which gives them 30-minute early access to Lightning Deals on Amazon, which typically last 4 to 6 hours. Beyond Prime Day deals, members get access to deals and discounts through Amazon Family, like 20 percent off diapers, baby food and more through Subscribe & Save, and 15 percent off eligible products from baby registries.

Groceries

In 2017, Amazon bought the grocery store chain Whole Foods Market, leading to exclusive savings in stores and online for Prime members. Eligible Prime members with the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card get 5 percent back on purchases at Whole Foods — other credit cards incentivize via deals with Amazon and its affiliates, too.

Prime members can also get free 2-hour grocery delivery through Whole Foods Market and Amazon Fresh. In select cities, you can order food and household items and receive items within two hours, or on another date and time you select.

Streaming and entertainment

  • Prime Video: Prime Video offers unlimited streaming of movies and TV episodes for Prime members. It’s available for non-Prime members as a standalone streaming service for $9 a month.
  • Amazon Channels: Prime members can watch shows and movies from channels like HBO, Showtime and STARZ through their Prime membership for $5 to $15 a month each without a cable subscription or additional apps.
  • Prime Music: Prime Music offers members access to over two million unlimited, ad-free songs, as well as playlists and stations.
  • Amazon Music Unlimited: Prime members can get discounted Amazon Music Unlimited monthly plans, and they have access to exclusive annual plans. (Now through June 22, Prime members can get four months of Amazon Music Unlimited for free, while non-Prime members can receive three months free.) Part of Amazon’s Prime Day campaign in 2021 includes performances from Billie Eilish, H.E.R. and Kid Cudi.
  • Prime Gaming: Prime members have access to free games, in-game content and a free channel subscription on Twitch.tv every month.
  • Prime Reading: Prime members have access to over a thousand books, magazines and more, which they can download onto their Kindle or Fire tablet, as well as read through the Kindle app. Prime Reading includes books with Audible narration, too — Kindle’s proprietary Whispersync helps you pick up where you left off while reading across devices, and Whispersync for Voice allows you to switch between listening to an audiobook and reading on your Kindle. Other reading perks include Amazon First Reads, which gives members early access to a new book for free every month.

Other Prime membership benefits

  • Amazon Photos: A Prime membership gives you unlimited photo storage on Amazon Drive for you and the members of your Family Vault — this is especially notable as Google Photos ended its free storage plan on June 1 this year.
  • Prime Wardrobe: Get seven days to try on the clothing at home and only get charged for the items you keep — this includes shoes. Additionally, Prime members in select regions can pay an additional monthly membership fee to receive a monthly styling service, Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe.
  • Amazon Elements: With a Prime membership, you have access to the retailer's exclusive line of everyday essentials, ranging from vitamins to baby wipes.
  • Amazon Pharmacy: Get free two-day delivery and can take advantage of savings offers when you fulfill subscriptions with Amazon Pharmacy.

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