Charging Model for Malls



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Sunday May 13, 2018 Charging Model for Malls Yesterday I was wandering around West LA where I checked 7 different chargers and all of them were in use.  I began to get hungry so I stopped by Westside Pavilion Mall to get a bite to eat in the food court and an idea struck me about charging at Malls and Shopping Centers.


Westside Pavilion used to be one of my favorite Malls.  It was my place to go on a wet weekend and I have spent hours there walking around the mall while my wife went shopping.  They were also one of the early places to support public charging infrastructure and this was the first place I charged and EV when I rented an EV1 from EV Rentals back in 1999.  After the car makers crushed most of this generation of EVs these chargers were hardly ever used and while Malls like Century City and Santa Monica Place kept the chargers available Westside Pavilion had them removed. 


It has been obvious for some time now that brick and mortar stores are in decline as more and more people switch to buying online.  Westside Pavilion is one of the most obvious examples of this.  In the last year they have lost both of their anchor stores as Nordstrom and Macy's have moved operations to the more upscale Century City Shopping Center.  It is widely expected that the mall will close and be repurposed so I was quite surprised to find a sign that gave a phone number for lease information.


The whole thing got me thinking about charging and how plug-in vehicle ownership is growing at rate much faster than public infrastructure can keep up with, and new and better plug-in cars start to arrive in dealerships, this growth is accelerating.  New charger installations have not been keeping up and this leads to a situation like I had yesterday where I couldn't find an available charger near where I was.  It should be noted that this area of West LA is very short of chargers.


Earlier in the day I had been to my local supermarket and used my rewards card to get discounts that are offered to card holders.  Two of the local store chains, Pavilions and Ralphs, also offer discounts on gas for there rewards customers.  Both use the same method of calculating the reward, every dollar spent gets you 5 cents per gallon discount.  The discount has to be used by the end of the following month or it is lost.


This discount process actually rewards bad behavior.  I don't use that much gas often going for months without refilling and when I do visit the gas station I typically add between 7 and 8 gallons of gas which would be a saving of about 35 - 40 cents.  A more typical fill-up, at least here in LA, would be 12 to 16 gallons of gas giving savings of 60 - 80 cents.  The bigger the car, the more you save at the pump for the same amount spent at the store rewarding people for using more gas.


I have always been a supporter of using EV charging as a way to bring customers into the store.  Khol's was an early adopter of this strategy installing EV charging at their stores to attract plug-in owners.  Companies like Whole Foods and Wal-Mart have also used this strategy.  Volta, the company that provides the chargers for many of the Whole Food stores around LA have a model that uses advertising to pay for the charger costs.


My thought was to combine a rewards program, like the ones that are used by supermarkets, with EV charging designed to bring customers into Malls and Shopping Centers.  In this case the user could have a rewards card for the Malls that they frequent regularly.  The rewards card does not have to be unique to the company but could be done through an independent company like Plenti who manage a common rewards program for a number of customers.


The program would work like this.  The Mall or Shopping Center would install a group of chargers that would be available for a fee of say 25 cents per KWHr.  People who have the location's reward card would earn, say, 3 KWHrs free for each $100 they spend at participating locations.  Additional charging would be billed at the appropriate rate.  The more people spent at participating locations the more free charging they would earn. 


The downside here is that people may have to carry around a whole bunch of different rewards cards.  Having said that it should be noted that people already do this although many locations allow you to use a phone number instead of scanning the rewards card.  Another issue is that the availability of rewards will encourage people to use the chargers when they normally would not need to charge.  This may cause bad will if people cannot find a charger and as a result loose their accumulated free KWHrs at the end of the month.


The use of charger availability as an incentive to shop brick and mortar stores is a way that can help get people back into stores.  Lets face it, shopping online is both easy and convenient.  People now need an incentive to get out from behind a computer and visit a store.  I can't help but wonder if Westside Pavilion would have fared batter if they had ungraded their charger infrastructure rather than removing it.


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