Coming soon: Publix home delivery

This is the Publix in Marathon, one of four Publix groceries in Monroe County. A fifth is being built in Islamorada.
This is the Publix in Marathon, one of four Publix groceries in Monroe County. A fifth is being built in Islamorada. Keynoter

Publix Super Markets Inc. said Wednesday it will expand its online delivery service to all its approximately 1,100 stores within four years.

Publix has two stores in Key West, one in Marathon and one in Key Largo. A Publix is being built in Islamorada.

In July, Publix rolled out its online service as a pilot program in Miami, Tampa and Orlando through San Francisco-based Instacart, said Brian West, a Publix spokesman from the company's Lakeland headquarters. Instacart has shoppers working in Publix stores who will buy the items on a client’s shopping list and deliver the groceries in as little as an hour or at a designated time up to seven days later.

It has proved so popular that the service has already expanded in Florida to Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Melbourne, Naples, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee and West Palm Beach, according to the company’s Wednesday statement. It’s also in Atlanta; Columbia, S.C.; Charlotte, Durham and Raleigh, N.C.; and Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn.

The Instacart service will be available by 2020 at all 1,148 Publix stores in those states plus Alabama, the statement said. West could not say when in 2020 the expansions will be completed.

But Dacyl Armendariz, an Instacart spokeswoman, said her company’s goal was to service at least 80 percent of the U.S. market by 2018.

“We have no finite timeline,” she said. “We’re expanding at a breakneck speed.”

Instacart also serves other supermarket chains, including Whole Foods and Costco, as well as retailers such as Petco and Orlando-based ABC Fine Wine & Spirits.

Modest cost

Using Instacart requires setting up an account online through a computer or phone app, Armendariz said. The customer then selects items and designates a delivery time, she said. The shopper can purchase all items available in the store from fresh meat and produce to packaged items.

For a single delivery, Instacart charges $5.99 for orders of more than $35, Armendariz said. For orders from the minimum $10 up to $35, it charges $7.99. But Instacart also offers unlimited deliveries for a $14.99 monthly charge or an annual fee of $99 to $149, depending upon location, she said.

The move represents Publix’s attempt to keep up with the competition in an expanding online marketplace, said David Livingston of DJL Research, a Wisconsin supermarket analyst and consultant.

Cincinnati-based Kroger and the Meijer supermarket chain based in Michigan also offer the service in some stores. And then there’s online shopping king Amazon, which has begun expanding its food offerings, Livingston said.

While smaller, Publix’s reputation for service and quality puts it in a good position to compete online with behemoths, he added.

“If you had a choice to buy groceries someplace, would you buy from Amazon or Publix? I think Publix has a good name. Would you give it up to Amazon?” Livingston said. “I think Publix can do a better job than Walmart, or at least keep up with it. I think Publix sees it as shameful to lose one dollar to Walmart.”

“Personally, I think it will be difficult for some people to let go and not go into a store,” West said. “They want to go into a store and pick out the fresh fruits, vegetables and meats themselves.”

“What it means to brick-and-mortar stores, I just don’t know,” Livingston said.

The service could prove popular to seniors who know how to use computers and smart phones and can’t go shopping because of physical limitations, Livingston added. But the service doesn’t have to be widely popular to have a financial impact, he said.

Change often comes to the market slowly, but it does arrive, said Livingston, who noted people once commonly got their milk and dairy products through a milkman’s daily deliveries to their doorstep.

“It’s taken the internet 20 years to get to this,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the future, but it’s a trend that’s growing.”