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Electric Vehicle challenges and opportunities for roadside retail

By Fiona Briggs 7 Dec 2021 globalconveniencestorefocus

Roadside retail will play an important role in encouraging consumers to switch from ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) to EV by integrating EV charging into their forecourt offer and developing comprehensive and compelling retail propositions that satisfy the needs of EV drivers.

That’s according to Caroline Myall, Head of Research at Shopworks, the shopper research, retail design and category management specialist, who has recently conducted an in depth study into the behaviours, attitudes and needs of EV drivers in the UK.

Shopworks’ research found that there are two main barriers to mass EV adoption in the UK, initial vehicle affordability and range anxiety.

Affordability will be addressed in time, as EV production costs reduce, and new lower cost models are gradually launched by manufacturers.  However, range anxiety or the fear of running out of power on a journey and not being able to find a charging point to top up the vehicle to continue onto the final destination, is a pressing concern.

Most electric vehicle drivers adopt a top-up charging approach rather than letting the battery drain and then recharging to full, but this requires a combination of home / work charging and fast, reliable public charge points. Currently, the UK does not have the infrastructure to support a country full of EV users and there simply are not enough charging points to make long journeys stress-free.

Base line requirements for EV

Shopworks’ research demonstrates the need for EV charging solutions to deliver an experience for drivers that is at least comparable to but ideally better than the current ICE refuel experience, and which includes several base line requirements:

  1. Charge points should be visible, accessible, available and fully maintained and operable.
  2. Charge payment should be simple, one touch, contactless and app based.
  3. Charging facilities should be safe, differentiated to suit need and competitively priced (even when priced for convenience).
  4. Network infrastructure should be familiar, regular, reliable, and relevant.

“This is where roadside retailers can step in,” says Myall.

“Roadside retailers have nurtured their brands over many years. They are part of our national retail fabric and are known to be reliable. They understand how to manage their sites, keep them well connected and properly maintained. Any issues around charging infrastructure can be well addressed by roadside retail provided they integrate into the offer and make it part of the mainstream solution,” she says.

Upping the ante

Roadside retailers will need to think carefully about managing driver requirements beyond the charge point.

EV top-up charging extends driver dwell time on the forecourt from the 3-5 minutes needed to refuel an ICE vehicle to around 15-20 minutes. “This presents a huge retail opportunity” Myall suggests.

Retailers will need to consider the tempo of the whole-site retail offer to accommodate driver needs. Shopworks suggests that a mix of slow and fast-paced shopping experiences will be required to keep drivers stimulated and occupied whilst their cars re-charge.

“Across the globe we are seeing examples of roadside retailers experimenting with various different retail solutions at EV-only charge hubs” Myall says.

“Good quality coffee, clean washrooms and comfortable seating are a must” says Myall, however ‘destination’ sites are being developed with a convergence of several offers such as grocery stores, banking, gyms and work spaces plus services like click and collect and parcel drop off.

One good example of a new EV-only hub site in the UK is Gridserve in Baintree, Essex.

Gridserve’s first UK location meets EV drivers’ needs head on with a comprehensive charging infrastructure, a “Best of British” retail offer featuring a Costa Coffee, Post Office, Booths and WHSmith and thoughtful services including waiting and business lounges, meeting pods, a kid’s zone and shower and changing facilities.

Myall claims the business, which is targeting 100 forecourts across the UK, has created huge differentiation in both the offer and site ambience.

“We have spoken to several Gridserve customers during our research. The majority claim that they will go out of their way to use the Braintree forecourt instead of other local charging facilities, because the retail component is so compelling.”

Alongside credible fresh food and beverage offers, kids’ playgrounds and green areas to stretch your legs or exercise your dog are ideas that have traction with drivers, Myall says.

While the current effort is on EV and integrating charge points onto forecourts it’s evident that the winners, like Gridserve, are putting more investment into the retail offer. It’s early days for EV infrastructure in the UK, but one thing seems certain – roadside retailers are well placed to be part of the solution that will facilitate adoption of EV amongst the masses.

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