By David M. Feehan

Recently, I pulled into the parking lot of the Whole Foods in Columbia, Md. The lot appeared full except for a couple of spaces close to the door. Then I noticed the signs: These spaces are reserved for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

I drive a Chevy Volt, so I pulled in, hooked up, noticed there was no slot for credit cards, realized the charge was free, and thought about how smart Whole Foods was to install these chargers and reserved spaces. Parked next to me were a Nissan Leaf and another Volt.

Whole Foods seems to know its customers. Whole Foods shoppers, by my guess, tend to be more likely to drive electric or hybrid vehicles. Because the reserved spaces are close to the door, this is both a convenience for shoppers who may have driven a distance to get to this market and a public relations statement.

Electric cars generally have a range of around 100 miles, except for Teslas with a range of more than 200 miles. With my Volt, I have a 400 mile range—40 on electricity and the balance on gas. I don’t really need the charging station but it’s a great convenience—and I’m likely to spend more time (and more money) shopping if I know my car is also benefitting from the free charge.

If reserved spaces and charging stations make economic sense for Whole Foods, how many retailers and restaurants might follow suit?

David M. Feehan is president of Civitas Consultants, LLC.