Several industry bodies have responded to the announcement in Wednesday's emergency Budget that shops in England and Wales could soon see extended Sunday opening hours, depending on decisions made by local authorities.
Currently, smaller shops can open all day on Sunday, but those over 280 sqm – encompassing many stores retailing big-ticket items, such as furniture – are restricted to to six hours.
According to chancellor George Osborne, there is a "growing appetite" for Sunday shopping: "There is some evidence that transactions for Sunday shopping are actually growing faster than those for Saturday," he says. "The rise of online shopping, which people can do round the clock, also means more retailers want to be able to compete by opening for longer at the weekend. But this won't be right for every area, so I want to devolve the power to make this decision to mayors and local authorities."
The issue has been debated at length, with commentators pointing towards missed opportunities and fair trading practices on the one hand, and too much strain on the retail infrastructure at the other.
"Clearly, devolving decisions on Sunday trading times to major towns and cities is a very significant step," comments BRC director general, Helen Dickinson. "A key issue will be how local authorities reach decisions around altering trading hours. Effective consultation with business and the community, clarity and certainty are essential. We will be looking very closely at the plans and working with our members to understand their views and priorities and develop and industry position as the consultation moves forward."
“Expanding Sunday trading hours will help create thousands of new jobs and save high street shops across the country which are under massive pressure," comments Scott Law, CEO of PoS credit provider Pay4Later. “The way we shop has changed and the law needs to change to reflect that as currently high street stores are losing sales due to Sunday trading restrictions. The amount of shopping online is growing rapidly, and allowing more shops to open for longer on Sundays will increase their footfall and boost sales. Shoppers will welcome greater choice in how and when they shop, and extended trading hours on Sundays should be part of this.”
Patrick Heaps, head of retail at BNP Paribas Real Estate, says: “Restrictions on Sunday trading make little sense in the digital age and should be removed entirely. Freeing shops to open for longer will give a welcome boost to retailers and should drive footfall to beleaguered high streets and prime shopping destinations alike. Leaving them to the discretion of local authorities, however, risks creating a potentially confusing ‘postcode lottery’ for both retailers and consumers.”
Not all commentators favour the development, however, some pointing out that the move will make it more difficult for small shops to compete with their larger counterparts. Phil Mullis, head of retail and wholesale at accountancy firm Wilkins Kennedy, comments: “Small-scale shops are leading growth on the high street, experiencing an 8.1% rise in sales since 2013, compared to a 2.6% rise from larger retail businesses as people’s shopping habits change. No longer are the extensive warehouse-style supermarkets catering for the time-poor shopper that needs to nip in for a quick meal after work or evensong.
“The trading hours could create a u-turn in shopper behaviour as consumers choose to shop for longer at the larger stores to benefit from lower prices over the independent convenience stores. The truth is, consumers can only consume so much – will we spend more because the stores are open for longer? It’s unlikely, but the chances are the independent stores will stand to lose out in the longer term.”