LAKELAND, Fla. -- Some supermarkets have found a new revenue generator and customer service: the sale of electronic transponders for toll roads at their stores.
Publix Super Markets here, and Jewel-Osco, the Chicago-area division of Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, have both signed on to sell passes for their states' toll roads.
Publix joined Eckerd stores in Florida when it started selling Florida's Turnpike SunPass transponders in most of its 583 Florida stores in late October. Publix buys the transponders, which allow drivers to pay tolls without stopping, for $20 each, then marks them up to $25, according to an executive at the Florida Turnpike.
"They can make money, and it is a service to their customers," said Paul Krueger, special projects coordinator for Florida's Turnpike Enterprise.
"Now, buying SunPass will be as easy and convenient as picking up a carton of eggs or a gallon of milk at a local Publix," said Jim Ely, executive director of Florida's Turnpike. Publix would not comment on the deal.
Although he would not disclose Publix's transponder sales, Krueger said the Turnpike has seen a 50% jump in sales of transponders since Publix and Eckerd came on board. Eckerd began selling the units this summer at about 600 stores.
Meanwhile, Jewel-Osco started selling Illinois State Toll Highway Authority I-Pass transponders at 188 of its stores in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin on Nov. 23.
Drivers can buy the I-Pass for $50, which includes the $10 transponder deposit and $40 in prepaid tolls.
However, Jewel-Osco is not marking up the transponders. Instead, it is offering them as a convenience for shoppers. "We don't make anything on this price. We're simply doing it because it's a customer service -- one more way we can work with our customers to make their lives easier," said Lauri Sanders, spokeswoman, Jewel Osco.
Jewel-Osco has an exclusive agreement to sell the transponders for six months, then it will reevaluate the contract.
Jewel-Osco management views the I-Pass sales as another customer service that it has added over the past few years, such as the Federal Express kiosks that are now in 23 of its stores. Shoppers can drop off and pick up packages at the kiosks.
While the toll transponder sales offer benefits to the retailers, toll authorities are also praising the program.
Florida's Turnpike had been selling about 200,000 transponders a year at its service plazas and via mail, its Web site and phone ordering. However, that figure is expected to jump with the "power of mass merchandising" in 1,100 Eckerd and Publix stores, Krueger said.
Although several other retailers, including grocers, have asked to get involved in selling the transponders, Publix and Eckerd have an exclusive, multi-year agreement with Florida's Turnpike. The Turnpike posted the invitation for bids on the state's Web site, and Publix and Eckerd were the two chains that responded, Krueger said.
Meanwhile, grocery chains and toll road authorities in states outside Florida and Illinois are considering similar programs. "Other state [authorities] have called me, and every week, we get calls from retailers," Krueger said.