Justine Griffin / Tampa Bay Times – The CEO of a company that began delivering Publix groceries Tuesday said “thousands” of Tampa Bay area residents have signed up for his mobile app-based service.
Shipt, a new grocery delivery company, announced last week that it would bring its service to Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, allowing residents to order groceries through its smartphone app and have them delivered to their homes. The demand for the service in the Tampa Bay area has been overwhelming so far, said Shipt’s CEO, Bill Smith.
“The rate of signups in Tampa have been much faster than any other market we’ve opened in. We’ve been blown away,” Smith said.
Customers order, pay and ship via the company’s app. As of Tuesday morning, a handful of deliveries were already made locally, Smith said.
Most items sold at Publix are available for delivery through Shipt.
Customers are required to sign up at shipt.com for an annual membership for $99 or a monthly fee of $14. Customers get a year of free shipping on orders over $35. Shipping costs for deliveries less than $35 are usually $7 per order.
Shipt doesn’t accept coupons, though it does recognize “buy one, get one” deals at Publix.
On top of that, Shipt charges customers more for each item they buy, meaning the average grocery bill will be $5 higher than if the customer had gone to the store, the company said.
Shipt is betting on Tampa Bay’s busy young professionals to build a profitable way to sell and deliver groceries through a mobile platform similar to the car-sharing company Uber. The goal, Smith said, is to target a demographic that is technologically savvy and is probably too busy to shop for groceries.
“We chose Tampa because it’s similar to the other cities we’re in — Birmingham, Nashville, Dallas. People are just as busy here as they are in bigger cities like New York and Chicago. It’s a problem in just about any city in the U.S. these days,” he said.
Shipt will launch in Miami later this month and then in Orlando.
Publix attracts customers of all ages in the Tampa Bay region. By offering a delivery service strictly through a mobile platform, Shipt is limiting the number of customers who can use the service — especially Florida’s large senior and snowbird communities.
“Seniors could be the No. 1 demographic for a service like this,” said Jeff Green, a retail analyst from Phoenix who is familiar with the Tampa Bay area retail market. “It will appeal to seniors and it will appeal to millennials, so the challenge will be to come up with a way to deal with the older demographic — not all seniors have smartphones.”
After first reporting on Shipt coming to this area last month, the Tampa Bay Times has received numerous calls and emails from readers — many of them elderly — who wanted to sign up for Shipt, but don’t have a smartphone.
“This is the way of the world now. It’s the new trend, and people are going to have to figure it out,” said Steve Kirn, executive director of the David F. Miller Retailing Education and Research Center at the University of Florida. “People are using their phones for Uber and Lyft, and most seniors have iPads and iPhones these days. The pressure is clearly moving in this immediate direction.”
Smith said Shipt’s app-based business model will enable it to succeed where others have failed. Several grocery stores, including Publix, have experimented with delivery and online ordering over the years but never found a way to make it profitable. Shipt has fewer than 30 full-time employees and has little overhead. The Birmingham, Ala., company hires “personal shoppers” who will buy and deliver orders in their own vehicles as contracted employees, similar to Uber and Lyft drivers.
Hundreds of people have signed up to be personal shoppers in the Tampa Bay area already.
While there’s no official partnership between Shipt and Publix, Smith said the Lakeland-based grocer has been “very welcoming.” Shipt works exclusively with one supermarket chain in each market. It chose Publix for Florida because the company appeals to the masses, Smith said.
Publix officials declined to comment Tuesday about Shipt’s entrance into the Tampa Bay market.