Envisioning an Electric Future

Here’s why you should make tomorrow’s EV plans a focus for today.

August 09, 2023

(This article was brought to you by Chargepoint.)

By Sara Counihan

Close your eyes for a moment. Think about your convenience retailing business. Now think about it five, 10 years down the road. You are now catering to a quickly growing customer demographic—the EV driver.

Imagine drivers pulling into your parking lot to charge their vehicles and being greeted by a row of chargers ready to go. They open your store’s app on their phone to turn on a charger and pay for their charge. Once they begin charging, they see a notification pop up on their phone for a free specialty coffee.

They click on the promo, order their beverage and walk into the c-store to pick it up. They purchase a pastry to go with their coffee and sit down in a comfy chair. They open their laptop and squeeze in 20 minutes of work before they receive an app notification that their vehicle is charged. With an experience like this, EV drivers choose your location for a convenient charge, becoming loyal customers.

Now open your eyes. Is your current convenience store business on the path to the electrified future that you envision? Or do you need some guidance, a little inspiration or some tips on how to take your first step into the EV charging world? If so, keep reading.

A Sense of Urgency

According to BloombergNEF research, global passenger electric vehicle sales will increase from 10.5 million in 2022 to 22 million in 2025—a 109.5% increase. Additionally, EVs are projected to be 29.2% of new vehicles sold by 2025 in the U.S. and Europe (compared to 2.6% in 2019).

“There should be a degree of urgency for convenience retailers to get into the EV space,” said Michael Hughes, chief revenue officer, ChargePoint, which offers a leading network of EV charging stations in North America and Europe.

Hughes says there are three reasons for that sense of urgency. The first is that convenience retailers will soon have increased competition when it comes to how and where consumers fuel up. Eighty percent of fueling happens at convenience stores, according to NACS data. Experts predict that around 75% of EV charging will take place at home or at work; however, the remaining 25% of charging opportunity won’t be exclusive to convenience stores, said Hughes.

“Convenience retailers end up sharing a smaller piece of the fueling pie with competitors that they’ve never had to compete against,” he said.

Another reason for urgency is the plethora of funding options available from local, state and federal governments. These incentives won’t be around forever. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allocates $7.5 billion for EV charging and other alternative fuel projects: $5 billion for the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) formula program and an anticipated $2.5 billion for corridor and community charging grants, covering up to 80% of EV charging project costs.

“Outside incentives do help mitigate risk and expediate payback,” said Hughes.

The third reason for urgency surrounding EVs, according to Hughes, is that there is first-mover advantage.

“Convenience stores are in the business of selling products and services that customers want and need as they’re on their way. Charging is no different,” said Hughes. “There’s an advantage to being a first mover to demonstrate to your customers that, ‘Hey, you can still come to my place tomorrow the same way that you come to my place today.’”

Joe Bona, president of Bona Design Lab, a convenience store design firm, also sees an advantage in getting into the EV charging game sooner rather than later.

“There’s no time other than now to get in and figure it out and see how it affects your business,” said Bona. “You can see what the learnings are and what changes you need to make in order to serve those customer needs.”

A Look Into the Future

Bona spends much of his time envisioning the convenience store of the future, and electric vehicles “absolutely” are part of tomorrow’s c-store. However, because EV drivers will have so many places they can charge, convenience retailers need to give customers more reasons than ever to visit a c-store.

“As long as we don’t lose sight that convenience is the fundamental reason why people use our sites, I think EV charging is just going to be another offer that attracts more people to our locations,” he said.

A robust foodservice program is a must-have if a convenience store wants to compete in the future of convenience retailing, said Bona, along with bigger, cleaner restrooms and other amenities that make c-stores a destination rather than a stop on the way.

“If I need a place to charge, I’m going to go past the pharmacy, the shopping mall, or any number of other places with chargers. I’m more likely to go to my local convenience store just because it remains the most convenient stop between Points A and B and where I can do other things,” said Bona. “I think that it’s important that c-store retailers embrace all aspects of their business in order to serve those needs.”

Continue reading “Envisioning an Electric Future” in the August 2023 issue of NACS Magazine here.

Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Magazine and NACS Daily. She can be reached at scounihan@ convenience.org.