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How Alibaba’s New 88 VIP Membership Takes a Cue from Amazon Prime

Alibaba’s betting big on the notion that loyalty today is not as much about tit-for-tat, dollar-for-dollar rewards as it is about a full-bodied lifestyle built on the access and experiences consumer crave.

In some ways taking a cue from Amazon’s popular Prime membership program, which boasts more than 100 million insiders worldwide, Alibaba unveiled its 88 VIP loyalty program with annual fees determined by a consumer’s credit and shopping history, which create a points-based system. The numeral “8,” representing wealth in the dominant Chinese languages, is seen as the luckiest number. 88 VIP is an optional upgrade from Alibaba’s free 88 membership platform, launched one year ago for Taobao’s and Tmall’s more than 500 million shoppers.

Alibaba’s making it easy for its most prolific and most desirable customers to join the program, charging anyone with 1,000 points or more just RMB88 ($12.90). Its other price point is on par with Prime, which increased this year to $119; users accumulating fewer than 1,000 points must pony up RMB888 ($130).

So what do 88 VIP members get in return? Access to services and experiences across the extensive Alibaba ecosystem. Beyond the to-be-expected discounts like 5 percent off at flagship stores on Tmall, Taobao and Tmall Supermarket, “premium” program members automatically are enrolled in Alibaba’s entertainment streaming services Youku (video) and Xiami (music), Fandango-like movie ticketing platform Taopiaopiao, and Ele.me, the online food delivery system. Alibaba said these perks are just the beginning.

Worldwide, some of the most influential commerce companies are doubling down on the value of ecosystems, marketplaces and platforms—adopting the mindset of “all things to all people.” Walmart is said to be copying Amazon and Alibaba with the rumored launch of a rival video streaming plan. Similar to Alibaba’s new announcement, Prime members enjoy access to a vast library of video content, 2 million songs, food delivery from local restaurants, Prime Now same-day delivery, discounts through organic grocer Whole Foods—and the option to add on additional services like grocery delivery through Fresh.

Although Singles’ Day on Nov. 11 is seen as the biggest shopping spectacle in China, Alibaba last year stole a page from Amazon’s book with its foundational 8.8 (Aug. 8) Members Festival that showered Super Members with goodies like a star-studded private concert on tops of discounts at fashion brands like Old Navy and Gap.