Rethinking Your Offer to Attract EV Customers
With electric vehicle adoption accelerating faster than expected, convenience retailers need to begin thinking through their EV strategies sooner rather than later. A variety of key decisions will need to be made when it comes to your EV convenience retail strategy, including what the investment strategy will be, what type of charging infrastructure to offer, and which locations to roll out first.
However, the success of any strategy ultimately depends on a retailer’s ability to attract customers to their sites and keep them coming back. As more and more competitors get into the game and EV drivers have more and more options, this will largely come down to what a convenience retailer has to offer in addition to the charge. And that may end up looking a lot different than anything you have offered before.
You have at least 15 to 30 minutes to work with.
Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) technology continues to advance, with some chargers offering faster charging speeds than others. But generally, EV drivers will be spending at least 15 minutes when they stop to charge, and potentially much longer depending on the type and location of the charging destination. However long they have, you can be sure they will want to spend it wisely.
This means that convenience retailers need to be extremely thoughtful and intentional about what they will offer when it comes to their EV convenience retail strategy, not only to entice drivers to choose their location over a competitor’s, but to also maximize revenue during the time consumers are onsite.
Get outside of your comfort zone.
Because most convenience retailers already appeal to food and beverage purchases, as well as small fill-in trips, these seem like the natural places to start. However, as competitors of different types emerge, c-stores will need to venture outside of their comfort zones and consider what else consumers may be seeking, or how they can go beyond a simple extension of their current offerings, to stand out. Overall, retailers should consider at least the following four categories as a starting point to cater to the early adopter segment – two of which may be brand new considerations for most – in order to customize an approach that will have the greatest consumer appeal.
1) Food and beverage – Many c-stores have already turned to fresh food as a way to drive trips and replace lost profits from other declining categories like tobacco. Now that consumers may be spending even more time on site, there’s even more reason to think about how to enhance the fresh food offering and create something that will persuade customers to choose you. This is especially true as other competitors in the EV space won’t necessarily be equipped to provide quick, fresh food as one of their amenities.
Specifically, retailers might want to consider a made-to-order food model over a grab-and-go model, as many other retailers have already identified and successfully implemented. Early EV adopters are generally environmentally and health conscious and will especially appreciate fresh, healthy, and local options. Also, think about how a signature product or category could help your business become a go-to destination for that item and how this could go hand-in-hand with promoting your EV strategy. And we must not forget that an important aspect of having a food offer is a clean, comfortable seating area, somewhere the driver can take their time to ‘refuel’ while their vehicle is charging.
2) Business – Early adopters of electric vehicles tend to also be affluent and business-oriented, which means a business center type offering may help attract more customers, especially those with long commutes or who are traveling significant distances for business. As higher-end dealerships begin to add charging infrastructure to their facilities, primarily as a way to service their own new EV models, these locations are typically already outfitted with well-appointed business centers. Some feature private workspaces along with phone and device charging stations, complimentary coffee bars, clean restrooms, and of course, high-speed internet access.
Business centers traditionally have not been an amenity that c-stores offer. But those that are located on heavily travelled commuter routes will likely be much more convenient destinations than dealerships. C-stores willing to consider playing in this space could be very well positioned to properly serve the business-minded traveler by creating offerings specifically geared to their unique needs.
3) Shopping – As with food, some c-stores are already set up to capitalize on providing not just top-up shopping but also an array of other products from gifts to locally manufactured products, books, themed merch, household products, and much, much more.
This will of course require rethinking the category mix. With presumably more time on site, c-stores could benefit from offering a wider or different range of products along with potential product experiences. The key will be understanding the EV consumer and their preferences to ensure that what’s on offer aligns with their needs.
4) Leisure – The sky is the limit when it comes to what types of leisure activities could be offered. Potential leisure offering options may include gyms, dog parks, and playgrounds, all of which have appeal to individuals and families on long trips who need to stretch their legs as well as to those looking to use their vehicle charging time to get in a little fresh air or exercise.
This is one of the areas that non-traditional EV charging locations will be focusing on to attract consumers, so c-store will need to be particularly creative about what they can provide that will set them apart and allow them to compete. The ability to combine leisure with other more traditional c-store offerings could provide a valuable differentiator.
Factor funding into your strategic planning.
Plush business centers and high-end dog parks might feel a little pie-in-the-sky for the traditional convenience store retailer. But as the world moves away from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and toward EVs, it might be time to consider what that really means for the business model and brand and how it may be time to move beyond mere extensions of the current offering and into new territory.
With the availability of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program (NEVI Formula) funding and other incentives to guide the transition to EVs, additional investment into some of these considerations may be more within reach of your EV convenience retail strategy than you think. With careful planning, it’s possible to create a strategy that will work for your brand and your customers as we all move through the transition to EVs together.
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