Supermarkets Demand Extended Opening Hours on Busiest Day of the Year

Posted on 17 November, 2012 by Kirsten Kennedy

During the Olympics, Sunday trading laws were relaxed in order to allow larger retailers the opportunity to cash in on a heightened enthusiasm from consumers to spend. Under current laws, stores of more than 3,000 sq ft are only allowed to trade for six hours on Sundays – something which smaller retailers appreciate as they can operate for longer hours and benefit from custom when larger rivals are forced to close.

While the relaxation of Sunday trading laws was not the overwhelming success story that it may have been, it appears that two of Britain’s largest supermarket chains believe that a similar relaxation leading up to Christmas Day could hugely benefit their businesses. This year, December 23rd – referred to as the busiest day of the year in the supermarket industry – falls on a Sunday, meaning that the shops are likely to be teeming with customers desperately putting the finishing touches to their Christmas Dinners.

Morrisons and Asda are understood to have contacted Michael Fallon, the Business and Enterprise Minister for the UK, petitioning for the opportunity to extend their opening hours two days before Christmas. In the letter, signed by Morrisons’ chief executive Dalton Philips and Asda’s chief executive Andy Clarke, they cite staff safety as one of the major reasons for granting their request, as they fear rushed customers will take out their frustrations on workers in the chains’ stores.

Last time December 23rd fell on a Sunday, an element of panic buying took over, as customers failed to realise that the stores would close as normal at 4pm. Many prefer to purchase fresh food and vegetables on the 23rd, before spending Christmas Eve preparing meals and decorations at home without having to worry about visiting the shops. As a result, the 23rd is an opportune day for retailers to cash in on the Christmas spending frenzy.

A spokeswoman for Asda said; “December 23 is one of the busiest days for Christmas shoppers and we are concerned by the potential impact on our customers and colleagues of only being able to offer a six hour window in which they can shop.”

Meanwhile, Mr Philips highlighted that extending the opening hours of his supermarket chain could ease the lives of consumers around Christmas, saying; “It is an absolute necessity. There needs to be a relaxation – it’s not fair on consumers.

“They have enough stress going on in their life at Christmas and we are lobbying hard on that.”

However, it is not simply supermarkets that are pressing for an extension on the 23rd, with Steve Rowe, retail director at Marks & Spencer, also throwing the weight of his company firmly behind Morrisons and Asda. He believes that, since a special dispensation was made for the Olympics, it is not too much to ask for a similar allowance to be made during the festive period.

He says; “We think there is an opportunity to make things better for customers – otherwise it will put terrible pressure on the Monday.”

Mr Fallon said he had received the letter from the chief executives of Morrisons and Asda, and is currently considering the proposal. However, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that, while several retailers had backed the move, “The Government has no plans in this area.”

Would you appreciate a few extra hours of shopping time on the 23rd of December in order to pick up last minute essentials and fresh food for Christmas Day, or do you think that the majority of consumers will be making these purchases on Christmas Eve instead? Are the supermarkets petitioning for the temporary relax in Sunday trading laws genuinely trying to help combat the stress of their customers, or do you believe that they are simply trying to make a little extra money in the run up to Christmas?

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