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The market for electric vehicles is growing steadily, with automakers like Tesla, Ford, and VW helping to boost demand across much of the country. As consumer habits in the auto industry evolve, and the share of fossil fuel-powered cars on the road decreases, gas stations and convenience stores are adapting their marketing strategies for a new electric-first future.
Forward-thinking convenience store chains have already started making changes to their marketing strategies to account for longer dwell times at fueling locations.
It takes roughly 15 to 20 minutes to charge an electric vehicle up to 200 miles on a Tesla Supercharger, while a typical full charge for a standard electric vehicle can take 30 minutes or longer. Filling up a gas-powered vehicle may only take five minutes, which means convenience stores are presented with new opportunities for marketing and engagement when they add electric chargers at their locations.
“As with any paradigm-shifting change, this longer dwell time presents a challenge and also an opportunity,” says Mike Welsh, chief creative officer at Mobiquity, a digital consultancy working with major convenience store chains like Wawa and Kum & Go.
At a basic level, convenience stores will have to figure out how to accommodate guests congregating at their store locations for longer. Welsh says the goal should be to make the time guests spend in the store productive and — even better — actually enjoyable, so the customer will want to return. Something as simple as offering access to a meal, free wifi, or the ability to clean their car while they wait might be enough to keep electric vehicle drivers coming back for charging in the future. However, it doesn’t have to stop there.
Welsh says convenience stores could up the ante, so to speak, by offering guests a “charging butler” that gives them the VIP experience, sending families on a scavenger hunt around their store to pass the time, or helping fans create content that they can share on their own social media channels.
“The important consideration in getting this right is knowing your customer. For example, the electric car owner of today tends to be an early adopter and has higher-than-average disposable income. Marketing offers directed at this audience should consider the different interests of this group versus a traditional c-store shopper,” Welsh says.
Financial Implications of EV Charging
Adding a single electric charging unit can cost upwards of $100,000, so gas stations and convenience stores need to be sure they have the customer base to support the additions. Welsh says businesses need to think seriously about a future where gas-powered vehicles are not in the majority and what that might mean for customer experience and the c-store business model.
“Among other things, it will be impossible to manually service each guest for the full hour they are at your location. The energy demands of this longer customer dwell time will also take a toll on the operation,” he says. “The fueling station of the future will need to be much more sustainable and will need to be less reliant on physical, human labor.”
The first step to prepare for this new reality should be tapping into things like solar panels to lower a convenience store’s overall energy footprint and moving to a less labor-intensive business model, with options like self-checkout and automated-style payment systems.
In this era of change, Welsh says there’s no reason convenience stores can’t become an incubator for new ideas across the business. Although undertaking such major changes may seem overwhelming, and a lot is changing in how people move around the planet, the core needs of consumers remain the same — hunger and thirst aren’t going anywhere, so the business opportunity for c-stores remains viable.
“The most important reason to be innovative, and not just wait and see, is to get in front of your customers’ habit-forming behaviors. The nascent electric vehicle market will bring with it new consumer behaviors and habits and once those are formed, they will be difficult to change,” he says. “Those who wait will find that the competitive landscape has shifted and that they are facing an uphill battle. C-stores know better than anyone the power of becoming a part of the routine and need to be proactive in inserting themselves into this new world.”
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