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.”

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