For shoppers seeking new ways to save money, Publix is starting paperless, digital coupons.
The Lakeland supermarket began testing the concept last year at stores in Ocala and Alabama and recently decided to expand it companywide.
Publix will start offering digital coupons at some Tampa Bay stores this week, with the remainder of stores in Central Florida joining the program in the next few weeks. The coupons are expected to be available in all 1,068 Publix stores by late March.
Digital coupons offer bargain hunters another tool beyond cutting manufacturer coupons and taking them to the store. Shoppers select coupons online through Publix's website and redeem them at checkout by entering their 10-digit phone number on a keypad.
"We are always striving to enhance the shopping experience for our customers and want them to be able to take advantage of any cost savings available," said Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten.
Shoppers sign up for the service at Publix.com/dcoupon on a computer or mobile device. Once registered, they can click on the coupons they want and have their list e-mailed, printed or downloaded. Coupons are automatically deducted from the bill at checkout and printed on the receipt.
Coupons not used on products are kept in the shopper's account until they expire. Each shopper's account also tracks which coupons have been redeemed and the year's total savings.
The digital coupons are separate from the manufacturer coupons found in weekly newspaper inserts and can't be combined with a paper coupon on the same item. They also can't be printed and redeemed at a competitor's store.
While digital coupons reflect a small percentage of coupon use overall, they are on the rise. Distribution of digital coupons has doubled annually since 2008, said Sharon Joyner-Payne, a spokeswoman for Inmar, which provides digital promotional services for companies, including Publix's digital coupons.
"Digital offers are quickly moving from an interesting trend to having high shopper interest," she said.
The redemption rate is about 20 percent higher than traditional coupons based on the ease and convenience. Shoppers can sort by category, and retailers can target offers based on a customer's history.
Publix has about 100 digital coupons available, from $1 off two boxes of Barilla whole-grain pasta to $1.05 off 24 cans of Fancy Feast cat food. New offers are added weekly, and all have varying expiration dates.
Digital coupons are designed to supplement but not replace traditional coupons, which will be unaffected by Publix's new program. Digital coupons, while limited in number, have the added convenience of never being left at home because they are tied to an online account.
Last week, Winn-Dixie started a similar e-coupon program that lets shoppers clip coupons online and load them onto their Winn-Dixie Reward Card. Customers redeem the savings by swiping their card at checkout.
Digital coupons reflect Publix's latest push toward online services and social media. Last week, the grocer relaunched its inactive Twitter accounts @Publix and @PublixHelps to better connect with customers. The @Publix account tweets about the grocer's food and services. The @PublixHelps account answers customer service inquiries. Separate accounts post job listings but are not new.
Last fall, Publix began an online deli ordering system at many of its stores that allows customers to order in advance custom subs, meat and cheese to avoid waiting in line.
Susan Thurston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 225-3110.