Grocery customers can now avoid the dreaded deli line by going online.
Publix Super Markets just announced the launch of an Internet-based deli ordering system.
Publix Deli Online Easy Ordering will debut at one Lakeland store on Aug. 3 and should be in 50 stores by the end of this year, including "a handful in the Tampa Bay area," said spokeswoman Shannon Patten.
The service will enable shoppers to order custom sub sandwiches and wraps, as well as sliced meats and cheeses, for in-store pickup.
Customers specify their desired pickup time, then retrieve their items at an area of the deli counter marked "Online Easy Pickup." Payment is due at the register in the front of the store; a few locations offer additional registers in the deli department.
There's no fee for the service and no minimum order. The service will be available during normal store hours.
Customers can order at publix.com/order. There will also a mobile site for smartphone owners -- the service's target users.
Patten expects the service to be especially popular with the lunchtime crowd. More fast-food chains now offer online ordering.
"Customers are telling us that they are time-starved," she said. "This Deli Online Easy Ordering seems like the best solution for that."
Some locations will also have an in-store kiosk where customers can place their order, then continue shopping while the order is processed.
Customers may also fax or call in their orders.
There are Publix stores in 1,053 stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. Previously at three locations, Publix offered full-service online shopping with curbside pickup. This service is no longer available.
"The customers that used that service loved it, but it wasn't a service that we could provide in every single store," Patten said.
Sweetbay Supermarket, a competitor of Publix, offers online orders for deli platters but not smaller-scale orders.