Updated! Seattle – Amazon.com has begun offering free same-day delivery to Prime-tier members in 14 major metro markets on orders of $35 or more.
Customers can order by noon from a selection of about 1 million qualifying items at launch, and expect to receive their merchandise by 9 p.m. that evening, seven days a week.
Baskets under $35 will cost Prime members $5.99 per order for same-day delivery within those markets.
Non-members can participate in the stepped-up service as well, starting at a cost of $9.98 per order.
The program will initially cover more than 500 cities and towns and over 50 million consumers, Amazon said. The company was vague on the mechanics of same-day fulfillment, except to say it reflects stepped up investment in new and upgraded distribution facilities across the country.
The move is part of a wide-ranging effort to keep Prime customers within the fold, especially after last year's $20 increase in the annual membership fee, to $99. Members tend to spend significantly more than non-members, which explains such Prime incentives as unlimited Cloud storage for photos; free access to movies, music, digital books and TV shows (including original series); and free two-day shipping on some 20 million items.
Amazon is also looking to stay two-steps ahead of the competition, which in the case of Walmart is expected to begin testing its own, more limited version of Prime this summer.
The e-tailer also offers free two-hour delivery, and one-hour deliveries for $7.99, to Prime members in Atlanta, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Dallas, Manhattan and Miami, where it is piloting a Prime Now service.