Busy families in some areas of DeKalb County have the opportunity to scratch one item off their to-do lists—walking around the grocery store to select items for the week’s meals.
Nationwide, Publix has three grocery stores that allow customers to select items online then pick up the order at their convenience—without getting out of the car if they prefer. Two of those are in DeKalb County, in Toco Hills and Brookhaven. The third is in Tampa, Fla.
Initially, Publix offered the service only at the Toco Hills Publix on North Druid Hills Road. Chosen for its size and location—near large numbers of internet users—the Toco Hills store was the launch point in August 2010 for what originally was to be a one-year pilot project.
The Brookhaven store was chosen because of a real estate opportunity, said Brenda Reid, Publix regional media and community relations manager. There was enough land available next to the store to allow Publix to build a separate curbside store. Also, the area has experienced a huge growth spurt in recent years.
The two DeKalb County stores—one with the curbside pickup service in the same store with basket-pushing shoppers and the other with it in a separate store—represent two different models, she said, and an opportunity for the grocery chain to compare the two approaches.
A year after opening its first curbside facility, Publix still has not decided whether to continue offering the service. “We’re going to continue for a few more months before we make a final decision,” Reid said. “In the meantime, we’re going to make a few changes such as publicizing the service more externally.” Right now, Publix’s website is about the only place customers can learn about curbside pickup.
Also, Reid said, Publix is reviewing its online selection and tweaking the online product mix based on customer demand. “We have quite a large variety of products that can be ordered online, but in the store we have some 30,000 to 40,000 items. It would be impossible to offer them all online.”
Reid said that Publix gets quit a bit of repeat business for its curbside service. She added that it would be difficult to identify a typical user of the service. Many, she said, are families with young children. “Toddlers and grocery shopping aren’t always a good mix,” she noted.
She said the service also is often used by elderly or disabled customers who have others shop for them. “This way they can pick their items online and the person shopping for them only has to drive to the store and pick up the order.”
Orders must be placed at least four hours before the appointment to pick them up and a $7.99 service charge is added no matter the size of the order.
On a recent Friday morning at the Brookhaven store, a number of orders were waiting for pickup, but most of the traffic seemed to be flowing to the adjacent regular Publix.
“It’s a roller coaster,” said curbside specialist Bill Ballor. “We’ve had times when we had more employees than we needed at the moment and times when we were so busy we could have used some extra help. We’ve pretty much solved that problem by training employees from the regular store to work curbside pickup. Without the training, they were sometimes more a problem than a solution.”
Ballor was transferred to the Brookhaven facility when it opened in April. He had been at the Toco Hills store, where he was one of the original curbside service employees.