Alternative Fuels: Driving Retailers to Rethink Store Formats

How do convenience retailers compete with others getting in on the EV charging game?
EV charging
Photograph: Shutterstock

As the electric evolution gains momentum and more retailers are starting to make this a core part of their strategy, it’s vital to consider how the overall offer could be reimagined to focus on the driver rather than the vehicle.

Historically, the focus for many fuel and convenience retailers has been a vehicle-centric offerincluding quick-fueling, carwash, vehicle servicing, etc.—with other offers for the consumer peripheral to the vehicle needs. While we’ve seen changes over the years, with more foodservice, seating, Wi-Fi capabilities and other amenities, in most cases, these have been secondary and not directly linked to optimizing the time that the driver spends while refueling. There is now a need to expand on this and somewhat flip it on its head.

The average time spent to refuel an Internal Combustible Engine (ICE) vehicle is seven minutes, just enough time to buy a coffee/snack and perhaps use the restroom. The electric vehicle (EV) driver will be spending a minimum of 15 minutes, and up to 30-45 minutes, recharging. Not every retailer has space to build a store the likes of Buc-ee’s, offering a host of driver-focused services, so what’s the right mix? And how do convenience retailers compete with all the non-fuel retailers and other businesses getting in on the EV-charging game?

The first step is understanding the consumer and what they want to do while charging. This includes the trip mission. Is this a recharging trip only or is it a top-up trip (think cellphone charging)? As a retailer, are you looking to create an offer for the 15-minute consumer or the 30-45 minute consumer? As we transition, the EV charging trip-mission will often be the key driver in way-point choice, and why the total offer will be more important than ever.

We have heard time and time again that EV drivers want to shop, get a bite to eat and maybe catch up on emails. But let’s not forget other everyday activities that may not be at the forefront of all retailers’ minds—a trip to the gym, self-care, activities for kids—the list is endless. Which of these becomes part of the overall offer is highly dependent on the type of trip the retailer is looking to capture. Imagine a convenience-store strategy that starts with no pumps out front: What would you build to attract the consumer?

Four key types of offers to be considered:

  1. Food and beverage – Not a new concept for the convenience industry, but one that should be revisited, especially as more fast-food restaurants and coffee shops add EV charging to their locations.
  2. Business services – With many early adopters of EVs falling into a more on-the-go, tech-savvy consumer, business facilities where they can stay ‘connected’ become a huge draw.
  3. Shopping – This falls primarily into the top-up charging trip, where a consumer will spend more time, yet could also attract those who want to catch up on fill-in grocery shopping.
  4. Leisure facilities – This may seem like a stretch, but one to be considered as more leisure locations add chargers to their facilities. Think gym, dog park, playground, nail or hair salon and so much more.

Understanding and deciding which trip you want to capture, and who you want to compete with, will determine which offer(s) becomes a part of the EV strategy.

Having invested in the offer, to keep the consumer coming back for more, investment in digital capabilities is a must. The always-connected EV driver provides a wealth of data on their needs and preferences through their digital footprint. Utilizing that data to ensure driver needs are being met provides a significant opportunity to build brand loyalty.

Many retailers have already had success in this area by either enhancing their existing strategy to resonate with EV drivers, or by taking advantage of the fact that they already have an offer that aligns with EV drivers’ needs and adding EV charging to boost their sales. What is common among these retailers is that they have spent the time getting to know their customers and are willing to experiment with offers that are outside of their comfort zone.

While possibly decades away from a fully charged EV environment, it is clear that retailers need to start planning now to assure that they get their slice of the EV pie. This may mean stepping outside of the ‘traditional’ offer to succeed in this new era of fuel retail.

Anila Siraj is the EV and alternative fuels practice lead at Impact 21, and a sought after EV expert having helped retailers across the globe with their EV strategy. She can be reached at asiraj@impact21.com.

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