We are living in the age of the customer when traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers are pitched against e-commerce shopping and omnichannel retailing that creates a seamless integrated customer experience.
Yet trading laws in the UK restrict consumers.
Under the Sunday Trading Act 1994 larger shops of over 3,000 sq ft are prevented from selling products for more than six hours on Sunday, as opposed to weekdays and Saturdays when shops can trade for as long as they want.
With the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Act approaching this summer, some of the UK’s biggest retailers are backing a Parliamentary bid led by Conservative MP Philip Davies to extend Sunday trading hours.
They include Asda (owned by US multinational Walmart) and Selfridges (chaired by English- Canadian businessman Galen Weston).
Being an American who has lived in London for 14 years, representing US retailers in their entry into the UK market, I am very familiar with the disparities in cultures when it comes to Sunday shopping.
In the US, Sunday is known as a ‘big spend’ day. Our retail clients at Bryan Cave tell me that Sunday is one of the most profitable days of the week in the US but, when they come to the UK, Sunday is closer to a Monday or Tuesday (the least profitable days of the week).
With longer opening hours on a Sunday, they expect trading levels to be similar to a Thursday or a Friday – in other words, second only to Saturday.
Strategic and effective use of real estate is a topical issue regularly debated with US retail clients who are looking to expand operations in the UK.
Yes employee costs may be higher here than in the US, as operating costs may also be, but do they really outweigh being able to trade for longer hours and ultimately provide customers with more flexibility?
I understand some people have raised concerns that the amount of business will stay the same but be spread over the week should trading hours be increased on Sundays.
However, retail clients tell me that a major consumer trend is shorter, more frequent visits to the shops.
In today’s busy world deregulating Sunday trading hours should be seen as a positive choice for consumers, encouraging them to choose bricks-and-mortar shopping rather than having to resort only to online shopping.
Retailers that have a physical storefront recognise that online shopping doesn’t stop on a Sunday.
We can buy online whenever we want to and have shopping delivered to our doors. Indeed online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter’s sales are reported to peak between 8pm and 10pm every night.
Being able to compete with e-commerce by developing new strategies that drive sales is key for bricks-and-mortar retailers who continue to provide customers with a valuable face-to-face in-store experience.
In the UK, the beauty industry is keeping up with customers’ needs by offering 24-hour beauty salons.
I believe it is time for Sunday trading laws in the UK to get a makeover and follow this example by allowing retailers to be available when customers want them to be.
Deregulation of in-store trading hours is the obvious first step in meeting the demands of modern retailing.