EV Charging at Supermarkets: Shoppers Double Browsing Time, ECOtality Says

By · April 17, 2013

Charging at Fred Meyer

Kroger (which owns the Fred Meyer name) is adding 225 chargers, 25 of them Level III. (Kroger photo)

Grocery chain Kroger is adding 200 Level 2 chargers and 25 Level 3 fast chargers at its stores (some operating under different names, including Fred Meyer and Ralph's) at 125 locations in Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles, among others. The $1.25 million expansion complements the 60 stations Kroger already has in Oregon, Washington and Texas (14 in the latter).

The Supermarket Connection

When EV advocates talk about expanding public charging infrastructure, they often mention supermarkets, and the EV charger has proved an effective symbol particularly for natural foods outlets such as Whole Foods (which installed its first ChargePoint station at its flagship Austin, Texas store in 2010).

But, of course, supermarkets aren’t the ideal site for public charging, because if shoppers aren't inside all that long, and a 30-minute Level 2 charging event isn’t hugely useful. But according to Ravi Brar, ECOtality’s C.E.O., people will browse longer if they know their car is getting free juice. “Typically, they’ll stay up to twice as long,” he said in an interview. “We’ve correlated customer loyalty data and Blink’s own numbers to get a pretty good bead on that. People are getting a panini, visiting the adjacent stores in the mall.” He said that adding 20 to 25 miles of travel should be relatively easy.

Brar said that adding EV chargers helps grocery stores attract customers with “a larger wallet, more disposable income, more ability to spend,” and that keeps them in the store longer, and buying more stuff.

Charging at Kroger

Will Kroger customers see their EV owner-customers spend double the time shopping? (Kroger photo)

Brar added that he’s seen customers lined up at some popular public chargers, but that’s somewhat anecdotal—if I can get a percentage-use figure for ECOtality’s California chargers, I’ll pass it on.

The Synergy of Shopping

Brar’s conclusions are backed up to some extent by John Gartner of Pike Research. “I’ve heard that the metrics for customer time in stores are very positive when there’s a free charger outside, such as at a big-box store or grocer,” he said. “For full grocery stores, EVSEs make sense since people often are there for an hour or more. With a 6.6-kilowatt Level 2 charger, that provides 20 miles or more of range, or 10 miles at 3.3 kilowatts, which is enough to completely recharge a Prius Plug-in.”

Of course, most Nissan LEAFs can use 480-volt fast charging, and if that’s available there’s a lot of synergy. That’s one reason I like the “Plug-In Ecosystem” at the Clay Terrace Mall (“the first outdoor lifestyle property in Indiana”) in a suburb of Indianapolis. Not only does it offer solar-powered fast charging, but it’s located in close proximity to a Starbuck’s, a Whole Foods, a bunch of restaurants and the Carmel Community Playhouse. You’ll have plenty to do while charging your car to totally full. “Places where people stay longer, such as at a sporting event or theater, are superior locations,” Gartner said.

Sometimes Free

This kind of public infrastructure is often free. ECOtality’s Kroger customers will pay a fairly token $1 an hour. The company’s DC fast charging is still free, though there will eventually be a session fee for it. Although many charging companies are developing high-tech card-based billing system, some property owners are still inclined to give the electricity away as long as car densities remain fairly low. The concept of tapping into free fuel while shopping remains a powerful inducement both to buy an EV and to visit stores with public charging.

Another big issue for supermarket charging, and a major annoyance for me, is the repeated and know-nothing use by ICE drivers of station spaces. I’ve encountered the phenomenon—and confronted belligerent drivers—several times. The markets themselves are indifferent stewards of the stations, and in some cases actually keep them locked up—meaning you have to enlist store personnel to get the electrons flowing. That’s a good reason for other states to follow Washington and adopt fines for illegally parking gas cars in EV spots. Washington’s fine, approved this month, is $124.

And this also gets into why ECOtality is charging that token $1 an hour. “You’ll often find fully charged cars sitting in the spaces,” Brar said. “Consumers need an economic incentive to vacate—that’s one of the reasons we charge by the hour.”


· · 5 years ago

It would take about 4 hours to fully charge my car (Volt) or $4.00. This is about equivalent to a gallon of gas at today's prices. Either one will give me aout 35 miles of travel, so I would gladly pay that $1.00 per hour, but not much more!

· · 5 years ago

Do drivers who charge stay longer, or is it more that only EV drivers who plan to spend more than a few minutes at the store bother to plug in?

I think the more compelling effect is that EV drivers who have a choice between two retail locations, one with and one without charging, will choose the one that allows them to charge. When I travel, I only consider hotels and B&Bs that provide charging, others have no chance of getting my business. Likewise restaurants with (or near) charging get my business when I need to stop for charging mid-trip.

· · 5 years ago

Unless you are cheap like me and went for the Blink Basic plan. In that case, it's $1.50 an hour. I do still tend to give preference to businesses that have at least one charging station on the premesis. The Sony factory outlet in Gilroy got my business because they had chargers right up front. That was a very expensive charge-up, after sales tax on the camera was included! :)

· · 5 years ago

Would you actually rely on such a charging station to FULLY charge your Volt? I think the intent there would be for actual shoppers at their store to charge while they are shopping, and then vacate the spot. I think it's a great idea to charge what I would consider a fairly nominal fee for charging if it means the spot is more likely to be open. Sounds like a good compromise to me.

· · 5 years ago

I think grocery store charging needs to be DC fast charger to make any real impact. The L2 rate is too slow for most plugin cars today. It is nothing more than a "top off".

Places such as movie theater, restaurant and larger shopping malls make more sense since people tend to spend more times at those locations.

· · 5 years ago

I would not waste 4 hours of my time walking around a grocery store to fully charge the Volt. My point was that as compared to pumping gas one dollar per hour comes out about the same as the current price of gas ($4.00/gallon). If it was $1.5 per hour it would be equivalent to $6/gallon. Bottom line: I don't mind paying a little more than gas, but if charging costs are too high as compared to gas I will refuse to charge my car with the chargers.

· · 5 years ago

The only supermarket around me that would likely go for this is TOPS, since they in about 1/2 their stores take delivery @ 23,000 volts, and pay demand charges of $2.53 /kw/month. The better supermarket Wegmans takes delivery in all cases at either 4160 or 13,800 volts ($7.83/kw on both).

Since tops has much less of a demand charge at 1/2 their stores, the pain of doing a fast level 3 charge is much less. Unfortunately, since EV drivers are usually a bit more High-Brow they normally shop at Wegmans, who couldn't justify the higher demand rate.

· · 5 years ago

@Bill: "EV drivers are usually a bit more High-Brow they normally shop at Wegmans"

I have found that shopping at Wegman's is cheaper than Tops or Price Chopper.

Interestingly, Price Chopper has started to supply EVSEs at their store in Warwick, NY, and is planning to expand their network. There is one Price Chopper near me that allows EVs to plug in at L1 for free. There is almost no benefit, though, since I would get about 3 miles of juice while I shopped, and the store is 15 miles out of my way...

· · 5 years ago

Caption needs to be edited. It says "25 of them Level II" but should be "25 of them Level III".

I definitely shop more at Kohl's and Walgreens now that they provide Level 2 charging for free. Although I have Level 2 charging at home and work, topping off with an extra 20 miles of range whenever I go to the store is a welcome bonus.

· · 5 years ago

@Brian Schwerdt

If I were a grocer I'd do at least what Price Chopper has done. Take an Existing 110 volt parking lot outlet, spend $75 for a GREEN ELECTRIC CAR CHARGING ONLY!!" sign, and get some EV drivers to frequent my store, with their portable EVSE's in tow.

A great image "concerned for the environment" building marketing plan.

· · 5 years ago

I suppose with an EREV such as the Volt, a comparison to gas prices comes more easily--after all you can always just run on gas if the cost doesn't work out in favor of electricity. With a BEV such as the LEAF though, the comparison is harder to make. Sometimes it's simply more about the convenience factor, not which fuel source is cheaper.

With higher power 6.6kW (or more) L2 chargers on newer EVs you can effectively split in half the effective cost compared with gas and you can get a reasonably meaningful amount of charge in 30 minutes (I get about 15 miles in an hour on my 3.3kW LEAF, so I would estimate I would get 15 miles in a half hour if I had a 6.6kW charger). Even at 3.3kW though, I think a nominal fee of $1/hour is acceptable. Sure, I'm only getting about 40 cents worth of electricity, but the convenience factor is worth it.

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