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Gridserve has opened the first electric vehicle charging operation of its kind at an international airport

With its Costa café and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered, checkout-less convenience outlet overlooking a bank of charging bays, Gridserve’s new electric service station at Gatwick Airport offers a glimpse into what might be the future of forecourt retailing.

We visited the site – Gridserve’s third such facility – just two days after its opening on 4 January to put its innovative technology and proposition to the test.

Gridserve says the forecourt at the entrance to the South Terminal long-term parking is the only electric vehicle charging operation of its kind at an international airport.

The Little Fresh-fascia outlet is also the first forecourt convenience store to adopt Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology that allows customers to buy snacks, ready meals and other groceries without having to scan bar codes.

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A checkout free shopping experience for forecourt shoppers

The facility is on the same perimeter road as an established Marks & Spencer/BP forecourt, a McDonald’s, and a KFC, and sits on the site of former offices and a staff car park.

The 30 charging bays sit under or surround the building, and include 22 high power, 350kW stations as well as four Tesla Superchargers. There are 22 CCS connectors, six CHAdeMO connectors and four AC type 2 sockets.

While charging operates 24 hours, the first-floor retail facility – accessible by stairs or lift, and containing the Little Fresh outlet, a lounge with Costa Coffee concession, a bookable meeting room, individual unisex toilets, and an “EV experience area” complete with an electric vehicle on show – is open from 4.30am to 10pm. Customers are limited to a one-hour stay – something Gridserve insists is a Gatwick-imposed condition.

The brightly lit Little Fresh outlet contains a modest range of largely convenience items, although there is a small selection of car accessories, toiletries, household and baby products, greetings cards and, given its airport location, essential travel items such as flight socks and adapters.

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Shoppers – individuals or groups – tap a contactless payment card or smartphone wallet on entry. The Just Walk Out technology, already in use in several of Amazon’s own shops, uses ceiling cameras and AI techniques to determine what has been taken and debits the account.

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Customers tap a contactless payment card or smartphone wallet on entry

Customers enter their email or scan a QR code to obtain a receipt, although one possible pitfall is that unless they check their receipt on departure, shoppers must take on trust that they have been charged accurately.

Alcohol, vapes, medicines and other 18-plus items are behind a glass partition, and to gain access, customers alert a staff member and pay conventionally.

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Alcohol, vapes and medicines are in a glass partitioned room

The range suggests that many customers are expected to be travellers returning from a flight and perhaps charging their car before going home. There is an extensive offering of confectionery, soft dinks and snacks, but also everyday groceries such as milk, bread, cooking sauces, rice, pasta, sugar, tea, and coffee.

A wall of chillers includes branded and Co-op label ready-meals, sandwiches, yogurts, cooked meats, pizzas, and prepared fruit. There is also a gondola end with a limited offering of fresh fruit and vegetables. 

The Costa Coffee store is Gridserve’s first as a corporate franchise partner and includes a Click & Collect feature that allows Costa Club members to pre-order and pay for food and drinks before arrival. Orders can be delivered to cars in the charging bays.

One striking feature is the “EV experience area”, a concept Gridserve has piloted at its other two facilities in Braintree and Norwich. Customers can book test drives on the latest electric vehicles.

Test drive

Customers can book test drives on the latest electric vehicles, and pre order Costa food and drink to have delivered to their car while charging

While Gridserve says the site will serve the more than 30 million customers who use the airport each year, it believes that it will also be popular with Gatwick staff and the local community.

Toddington Harper, Gridserve’s chief executive officer, says the company’s third so-called Electric Forecourt will “help support London Gatwick on its journey to net zero”.

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Drivers lounge to relax in while charging up electric vehicles

In total, the company operates more than 1,200 charging bays at around 175 locations, mostly motorway service areas. It has started work on its fourth Electric Forecourt, in Stevenage, near junction seven of the A1(M), and has planning permission for others at the Markham Vale enterprise zone near Chesterfield, Gateshead, Plymouth, and Basildon.

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Customers submit their email or scan a QR code for receipts

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Catering for travellers: Flight socks, eye masks and flight-friendly toiletries



Car chargers

Travel essentials on hand including car chargers, hands-free earphones and baby pacifiers