Amazon will allow US Prime members to send gifts using only an email or phone number

In preparation for the holiday shopping season, Amazon today announced a convenient new way to send gifts through its mobile app. Instead of entering the recipient’s mailing address — a piece of information people often don’t know in today’s age of digital communications — Prime members can now send a gift to a friend via their phone number or email address.

The feature works by offering an alternative to entering a delivery address at checkout. If you don’t have someone’s address, you’ll be able to select a new option that says, “Let the recipient provide their address.” You then enter the person’s email address or mobile phone number.

When checkout is complete, the gift recipient will then receive either an email or text, depending on what information you provided, that lets them accept the gift by providing Amazon with their preferred delivery address from their own Amazon account. They also have the option of exchanging the item in question for an Amazon gift card of the same amount — something that’s possible because the gift-giver selected the “add a gift receipt” option at checkout. This exchange can be done without notifying the gift-giver, of course, just as in real life. And because Amazon showed the recipient what was purchased, they can still say thank you for the specific gift that had been picked out.

The addition isn’t being made available to anyone who wants to shop Amazon. The retailer is instead using it as another lure to encourage users to sign up for a Prime membership ($119/year or $12.99/mo). As it tackles one of the annoyances of the gift-giving season, it could perhaps encourage a few fence-sitters to sign up. But more than likely, it’s not enough of a reason to encourage those who weren’t yet considering an Amazon Prime subscription to join. After all, you can always ask your family member, friend or colleague to simply provide their address. But for those who already have a Prime subscription, it could serve as a useful retention strategy, especially for last-minute gift-giving or those times where you forgot a gift.

Amazon says the feature will roll out to Prime members in the U.S. on its mobile app beginning on October 4.

The retailer today also announced its early Black Friday deals, and a multi-week beauty haul event, with discounts on a variety of products.