Open All Hours

By Steve Renshaw of HOW’s retail team (second left)

Open All Hours: Proposed Devolution of Responsibility for Sunday Trading Restrictions

One of the most interesting announcements of the Chancellor’s Summer Budget this week is the potential changes to Sunday trading laws. This does not mean current laws will definitely change but that the Government is proposing to consult upon devolving the power to decide to ‘counties and new mayors’ as part of the Enterprise Bill.

Current Sunday trading laws were introduced in 1994 prior to which no shops were allowed to open on Sundays other than those under Jewish ownership. The 1994 laws allow stores under 280 sq. m (3,000 sq. ft.) to open all day but those larger than this are restricted to opening for 6 hours between 10.00 and 18.00 with a further 30 minutes allowed for ‘browsing’. For these larger stores, supermarkets are most often open between 10.00 and 16.00 on Sundays with town and city centres stores usually adopting the later times of 12.00-18.00. Scotland does not have Sunday trading restrictions.

The laws were recently temporarily relaxed during the Olympics and resulted in an increase in sales on Sundays. Due to the expected overall increase during the games however, it is difficult to ascertain if these increases were an overall net gain or whether this simply resulted in a shift in sales from other times of the week.

Should the forthcoming consultation result in the ability for local areas to decide their own Sunday trading hours, there are a number of areas that in my view, are of particular interest:

1. What different restrictions in different parts of the country will mean for shoppers and retailers;

2. What implications the changes may have upon the format of stores in the future;

3. Limitations to retailers being able to take advantage of any changes; and,

4. The potential impact of the changes on smaller retailers.

Implications of Different Laws

The power to set different Sunday trading hours in different parts of the country may cause frustration for discount foodstore operators in particular. One of the reasons discounters are able to sell products cheaper than the larger grocers is through absolute efficiency and consistency across their store portfolio. One of the ways this is achieved is through consistent opening hours across all stores. This would be much more difficult to manage were opening hours to vary from area to area.

Furthermore, there may be implications for the distances people travel to shop on Sundays. If in your local area, the current restrictions stay as they are but there are longer opening hours in a neighbouring authority, it may result in some shoppers travelling further to shop on Sundays at times that are more convenient for them. This would obviously be negative from a sustainability perspective.

Future Store Formats

One of the most notable trends in food shopping over recent years has been an increase in the frequency of ‘top-up’ shopping. Many consumers now do not undertake a traditional weekly shop but undertake a number of smaller ‘top up’ shops each week. This change has driven and in turn been fuelled by the increased number of convenience stores opened by Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, M&S and to a degree Aldi and Lidl’s smaller supermarkets.

What is significant however is that with the exception of the discounters, virtually all of the Express / Local formats are below 280 sq. m. This is so they are able to trade for longer on Sundays to fall outside the current restrictions. If Sunday trading restrictions were removed, it is likely that we would see the size of the national operators convenience stores increase to stock a greater range of products and better meet the modern consumer’s demands for both choice and convenience. This is something that has been explored by Tesco independent of potential trading hours changes through development of an ‘Express Plus’ format.

Limitations to Adapting to Changes

For many retailers, it would not be possible to instantly implement longer opening hours on Sundays in all of their stores. This is because most planning permissions also impose conditions restricting opening hours on Sundays which are more often than not in line with current Sunday trading laws. Any changes in local Sunday trading laws would therefore be likely to require variations of existing planning permissions to allow longer opening on Sundays for retailers. This may require a consideration of what the implications of these changes would be upon residential amenity.

What This Could Mean for Smaller Convenience Retailers

The Association of Convenience stores which represents thousands of smaller retailers across the country have strongly opposed the proposed changes to Sunday trading hours. They consider that the periods where smaller stores are allowed to open outside the 6 hour window for larger stores on Sundays are important for their continued viability.

Whilst this may be the case to a degree, it also means consumers pay what are usually higher prices outside of these times. Also, if the viability of a convenience store is heavily dependent on the trade it receives on a Sunday morning and evening, it is unlikely to be a viable proposition over the long term. Furthermore, the increase in the number of convenience stores operated by the larger grocers over recent years has also effectively removed the Sunday advantage independents have over the national multiples in any event. Whilst there are likely to be some negative and unfortunate effects on smaller retailers should these changes be introduced, it is possible that these will be offset by the benefits to consumers.

A Return to 1993?

An important point to consider about the proposed devolution of these powers is if localities are genuinely being given the ability to decide upon Sunday trading hours, it should also be open to them to make laws more restrictive than the current 6 hours between 10.00 and 18.00. If the eventual legislation does not allow this, then the Government’s proposition of ‘letting the people decide’ would appear to be a little hollow.

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Published: 13/07/2015


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