Although I do believe that there will be some impact to the c-store business as the technology with these vehicles advance, any significant impact would be many years down the road.
My background is within the c-store industry and while we did add approximately five Level 1 charging stations several years ago, they saw little to no use whatsoever. In 2016 the company then added seven Level 3 charging stations (more powerful, faster charge) with a bit more interest, and only slightly more usage. Part of the underwhelming usage may be a result of geography -- all chargers were within the Southeastern United States, a traditionally slow to adopt group of folks.
All of that said, I don't think it is a bad idea for c-store retailers to dip their toe into the electric charger market, however, diving in head first would be a mistake, in my opinion.
I feel that the best course of action is to wait and see. With the speed of technological advances there could be, as the original article suggests, the development of charging infrastructure separate from your traditional c-store/gas station that is preferred by the consumer.
If you are in an area where electric vehicles are more prevalent, it may be prudent to install one, advertise it, and gauge usage before moving any further.
Excellent customer service is immeasurably important in all aspects of retail, however in this example there are a few factors that may supersede its importance and influence the customer decision.
1. Convenience will always remain an important factor in a consumer's selection of a home improvement store. The Lowe's and Home Depots of the world are generally located near other shopping destinations, making it very simple to drop in and see if they have a specific item(s) while in the area.
2. Selection is an important factor that comes into play in departments like Outdoor & Garden than in Plumbing, for example, but is not one that should be ignored. If a consumer knows that a retailer supplies a variety of products from which to choose, that alone may draw them in (i.e. Lowe's and Home Depot merchandise their flowers so that they are visible well beyond the parking lot).
3. Skill level of the consumer plays into the decision (for the most part) when the skill level is on the low end. For those who have specific questions and need detailed answers, the choice of retailer is pretty clear. The level of service provided by the Ace Hardware's of the world is a necessity given their competition, so I am unsure if it is specific to their cooperative structure.
I do think that with the DIY mentality of Millennials, and the advent of YouTube videos for pretty much everything, Ace will be able to parlay their high service level into a larger market share over time.
All of that said, from a personal perspective, I shop at Lowe's, Ace Hardware, and Home Depot for varying degrees of the reasons listed above. Thankfully it seems that there is plenty of room for each of them in the market, as they seem to each have their place.
Fitness centers, grocery stores, farmer's markets, and pop up retail are all great ways to draw the consumer away from their computer and to engage them in the B&M retail world.
Today's consumer no longer wants to go to one place for clothes, a different place for groceries, a third place to work out, and so on (hello, Amazon). That said, a consumer will consider going to several different places if they feel each retailer engages them and offers an experience.
So proximity alone will not make a mall anchored with grocery, fitness, or anything else for that matter, successful. The shopping mall's best bet is to offer the benefit of proximity to retailers who have already mastered the customer experience.