CHICAGO — The rise of electric vehicles (EV) not only provides a way for drivers to travel more sustainably, it could enable convenience store operators to get a competitive edge against nearby dollar stores, supermarkets with fuel stations and smaller-format food sellers, as well as provide an additional source of revenue.
However, EV investments are significant and can easily reach $10,000 per charging station for purchasing and installing a charger, preparing the infrastructure and connecting a charger to the grid. By educating themselves on these challenges, retailers can better prepare to take advantage of future opportunities in EV according to the recent webinar "How Will EV Charging Disrupt Convenience Retail?" hosted by Convenience Store News and sponsored by Diebold Nixdorf.
EVs experienced a spike in demand in 2022 compared to 2021, but also faced challenges, such as problems in the supply chain delaying delivery and increased cost of battery components. Despite this, even if the market for EVs slows down next year and people call them a temporary fad, "That's absolutely not true," said John Eichberger, executive director for the Fuels Institute. "They're going to continue to grow."
The increase in the number of available models, particularly utility vehicles, is important to American drivers, according to Eichberger.
"I think there's huge opportunities," he said, noting that while the future will likely hold stops and starts, long-term growth will occur, which presents more opportunities for retailers.
In Europe, the categorization of EV drivers is shifting from early adopters to early majority, said Joe Fahrney,vice president at eMobility Shoals. Range anxiety remains "a hindering factor for EV adoption," though, which makes uptime and reliability more and more important if EV charging stations are included at c-stores.
Catering to EV drivers will involve new strategies and likely new formats, according to Eichberger, who advised retailers to think specifically about who their customers are and what they need. Early EV chargers were often placed where a site's power came in, far away from the store, but the industry's mindset is shifting to one that recognizes the benefit of treating EV drivers as valuable customers, just like they treat their fuel customers.
As a result, retailers should consider new possibilities, such as placing a canopy over the charging stations, adding amenities, giving EV drivers the ability to pre-order food or request curbside delivery so they can enjoy snacks while charging and other ideas.
"Retailers are thinking more strategically about serving the customer, not just serving the vehicle," he said. "If the customer feels neglected, they're not going to come back."
REACHING SUCCESS STEP BY STEP
Key initial steps include selecting a site and then working with the local utility to understand power and ability at the site. Operators should also ask if utilities have any EV programs in the market.
It's important to understand the utility power and capacity available at the site, something that can be done in partnership with an engineer of record. Selecting an engineering firm is a key aspect of the early process, according to Robert Krause, head of EV charging at Diebold Nixdorf. Firms will help with the initial site survey, site layout and site design, as well as engineer drawings and construction drawings, the local permitting process and more.
"Initial planning is extremely important and a foundational part as you start to look at where you want to deploy your EV charging infrastructure," he said.
Krause advised that operators select a charging speed that fits their customer profile. Customers who only plan to be in the store for a few minutes want a faster charging speed than customers who plan to stay for half an hour or more.
Payment at the end of a charging session also needs to be a smooth process that doesn't rely on a specific mobile app.
"Payment has to be easy," Krause said.
Eichberger predicted that the pace of rollout will be slower than expected due to the high demand and limited supply of experts, but retailers can ease the process by communicating with state-level agencies and utilities well in advance.
"Plan for it now because demand is going to grow," he said.
High investment costs and on-site demand charges make profitable EV charging difficult in the short term, but positive returns will come after some growing pains, according to Eichberger.
"We're going to get there," he said.
A replay of "How Will EV Charging Disrupt Convenience Retail?" is available here.