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Alibaba launches paid membership program

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. on Aug. 9 launched a premium membership package that will offer exclusive benefits across the Chinese company's business units such as e-commerce, streaming media and local services.

The 88 VIP package is a new tier within the 88 Membership Club, a loyalty program that Alibaba launched a year ago for shoppers on its Tmall and Taobao online marketplaces.

Users can pay an annual fee of 88 Chinese yuan to upgrade to the 88 VIP level if they have at least 1,000 membership points collected through purchases and interactions on the e-commerce platforms. Those with less than 1,000 points will be charged 888 yuan.

Similar to Amazon.com Inc.'s Prime membership, which charges up to $119 annually for exclusive benefits and services, Alibaba's 88 VIP membership offers members a 5% discount for Tmall Supermarket as well as the flagship stores of select brands on Taobao and Tmall. Among the 88 local and international brands participating in the program are The Gap Inc., La Perla, Versace, Timberland, Watsons and Industria de Diseño Textil SA's Zara Home.

In addition, those who join 88 VIP will also automatically receive membership to various Alibaba-owned services including video-streaming platform Youku, music-streaming platform Xiami, food delivery provider Ele.me and online ticketing portal Taopiaopiao. New 88 VIP members will also get 300 yuan worth of coupons for digital appliances.

Alibaba said the total value of benefits available to an 88 VIP member within the company's ecosystem could reach 2,000 yuan, and it expects to add more exclusive offers to the membership package in the future.

"With the introduction of new retail, customers are more engaged both online and offline," Alibaba's chief marketing officer Chris Tung said in a statement. "The decision to have an exclusive membership tier is not just about rewarding our most active members, it's also about building an all-around experience our customers can enjoy every day."

As of Aug. 8, US$1 was equivalent to 6.84 Chinese yuan.