Providing EV charging points may make c-stores attractive for customers

C-stores with space may hold their customers longer if they are able to provide EV charging points

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The next big opportunity for the forecourt retailers or even for convenience stores with enough space could be providing charging points, as the UK aims to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and with most of the car manufacturers looking at launching electric vehicles to meet the demand.

“If forecourt retailers have space and facilities to host customers for the duration of a vehicle charge, providing EV charging points can be an important part of a modern offer for those,” James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) told Asian Trader.

“It won’t be the right answer for every store though, as the space may be better used for customers parking on site and doing their shopping,” he added. “EV footfall is likely to be different in practice to fuel footfall, because there will be fewer customers dwelling for far longer on site. Forecourt retailers will need to think about how to configure their sites to serve these customers effectively.”

One of the biggest challenges with providing EV charging points is space. However, EV drivers need to be able to park when they travel to shop. Combining parking with charging can introduce a level of convenience that makes a retail site significantly more attractive for customers. They will return not only for the products in-store, but also because of the convenience of combining their shopping trip with ticking another task off their list: charging their vehicle.

“Even for convenience stores not trading on petrol forecourt sites, there is still a potential opportunity when it comes to EV charging if there is the space available, but again it’s worth being aware that this could come at the expense of a higher turnover of customers using a normal parking space,” Lowman explains.

“Some of the non-forecourt stores that are currently most keenly investigating this are in urban areas where off-street parking is limited so home charging is more difficult.”

With the option of EV charging point, customers might spend longer time in store, leading to potential increase in basket spend. If customers bring their EV to the store to charge while they shop, they are much more likely to stay longer and browse while the charge is happening – and could spend more as a result.

According to ACS forecourt report 2021, there are around 305,000 PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) and 298,190 fully electric vehicles registered in the UK. There are around 536 charging points at 405 forecourt locations (excluding service stations), part of a wider network of over 16,000 charging locations.

ACS is currently calling on the government to ensure that the rollout of EV charging points is conducted strategically. For many petrol forecourts, EV charging will be central to their offer to customers, but for some it will not be the right approach in that community.

ACS’ recommendations to the government include:

  • Increase and extend the Rapid Charging Fund beyond major road network and support grid connections to increase EV infrastructure take-up
  • Industry-led implementation of EV charging infrastructure based on consumer demand, not arbitrary definitions of ‘large fuel retailers’
  • Exemptions from mandatory provision of EV charging in car parks where costs are prohibitive or sites are too small

While the pace of change on EV charging is an exciting prospect, it also provides challenges for retailers that are looking to invest in an EV charging facility, the ACS report notes, as there is the risk that their solution could be rendered obsolete within a short period of time. It’s essential therefore that the government supports forecourt retailers and other EV charging providers and helps them to invest in the long term future of the charging network.

Lowman told Asian Trader: “We continue to call on the government ahead of the next Spring Statement to ensure that there are financial incentives for retailers that want to install EV charging points on their sites. Drivers thinking about buying an EV will feel more confident if they see lots of charging points in convenient locations, so we play an important role in the government’s strategy and this is certainly acknowledged in our discussions with ministers on this topic.”