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08/12/2022

The Future is Electric: What retailers need to know about adding EV charging stations

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Despite the tremendous gains made by e-commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic, brick-and-mortar locations remain a critical part of Americans’ shopping habits. In-store spending rose 11.7% year-over-year in June, while e-commerce grew at a much slower pace, up 1.1%, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse’s June 2022 report. As consumer shopping habits evolve, finding ways to draw consumers into your retail location by offering unique experiences is critical.

Electric vehicle (EV) charging stations add a new, valuable amenity to brick-and-mortar locations that act like a magnet to attract repeat, loyal customers. Once inside, EV drivers stay longer so that their cars can charge — and, they shop while knowing your business is also paying them a favor. It’s a win-win.

Today, perception and reputation are currency in the retail industry. How customers think about a retailer is consequential. A focus on sustainability goes a long way as customers become more environmentally conscious. Providing EV charging on-site also contributes to a business’s sustainability strategy and perception. Supporting the transition to electric transportation demonstrates a business’s care for the environment proactively.

It’s not just a sustainability conversation or a business decision. It’s both.

When considering adding EV infrastructure as a future-proof amenity to your physical locations, here are four important tips to keep in mind.

1. What Charging Speeds You Need
EV charging isn’t overly complex but there are decisions to make. First, what charger type will be used. There are two main options: Level 2 (or “L2”) and DC fast chargers (or “L3”). With an L2 charger an EV charges in 3-8 hours, while fast chargers can get an EV to 80% fuel after 15-45 minutes.

While many think of faster as always being better, not every business is best suited for fast chargers. A movie theater or restaurant — locations with longer dwell times — would be well-positioned for an L2 charger. On the other hand, a pharmacy where customers are hoping to get in and out quickly would be better served by a fast charger.

Charger speed can also be used strategically to shape the desired customer behavior. A restaurant trying to encourage its customers to stay for an extra course, drink, or dessert (or all three) would benefit from an L2 charger. Correctly matching the type of charger with the business it enhances produces a seamless and memorable experience for the customer.

And speaking of a seamless, memorable experience: Would you rather stop by the grocery store that provides you front-row parking while your car conveniently sips on electrons, or one without? In this day and age, customer loyalty is key — and the businesses that invest in valuable amenities to make their customers’ lives easier will have a lock on the “loyalty” card nearly every time.

Correctly matching the type of charger with the business it enhances produces a seamless and memorable experience for the customer. Faster is not always better.

2. The Power Source
Next, it’s time to decide where the power for the station will come from. L2 charging stations require less power and the electricity needed can be pulled from the business and existing power capabilities.

Fast chargers are different because they need a lot of power to charge an EV rapidly. In this case, utilities must be engaged as a direct source of energy is needed. The EV charging provider must have a clear line of communication and a good relationship with the utility to ensure an easy integration process, taking the responsibility off the retailer’s shoulders.

3. Ongoing Maintenance
It’s easy to forget about what happens after that red ribbon is cut and shiny new charging stations are turned on, but here’s a reminder not to. EV charging providers differ in maintenance policies. Some only sell their equipment and place the responsibility of installation and upkeep on the buyer. Others offer end-to-end maintenance. Representatives from these charging companies might even check in on their station and its functionality.

Depending on a business’s resources and capabilities, this factor may be of great or little importance. But when it comes to EV charging, reliability is crucial. Drivers count on charging stations, and they’ll remember the one that didn’t work in their moment of need. They’ll also fall into the habit of visiting the stations that always work. If businesses want to own these stations, a strong maintenance plan of action is imperative.

4. Location of Charger
It’s vital to take into account where on the property the charging stations will provide the most user-friendly experience. By placing EV chargers front and center in front of the business, the customer is provided with a premium parking spot and a valuable amenity. Other, non-EV driving customers should ideally have a clear view of the EV charging stations, giving them increased confidence that charging is available where and when they want it, should they decide to switch to electric.

The EV chargers also present themselves as a unique business opportunity.  When planned carefully, they can communicate your sustainability commitment, attract loyal customers, and even promote products in your store through the use of media screens. EV infrastructure can be more than just “infrastructure.”

One last point on the location: The size of the charging station will also affect where the station goes. There is a perfect balance of optics, space, and charger demand for everyone, but it may take patience to find it. Ultimately, front and center charging stations convey convenience and increased confidence, all while strengthening the perception of the businesses’ sustainable practices.

Conclusion: EV Charging Will Be Expected
Right now, EV charging stations benefit a large number of people — but not everyone. However, technology is advancing rapidly, EV adoption is growing exponentially, and soon, everyday charging stations will be an expectation on behalf of customers. 

As is the case in nearly all technology advancements, the variances will be wide and numerous, so the decisions on what, where, and how to build, maintain, and monetize will be key to keeping pace. What makes a business stand out today will be the norm tomorrow. So, get ahead of the curve now before the road gets crowded.

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