As the major grocers gear up for Christmas, Retail Week takes a look at how flexible their opening hours are for shoppers.

Why are we talking about this now?

The big grocers have this week confirmed they will open longer this Christmas, with different opening patterns, in a bid to maximise festive spend and allow shoppers to be more flexible in when they do their festive food shopping.

Which grocers are opening when?

Marks & Spencer is opening at midnight on Christmas Eve for the first time in 14 of its stores while 160 stores will open until 10pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. M&S said it would “give customers a bit of a breather” by opening early.

All Tesco Extra and Superstore formats will open for 24 hours from December 20 onwards, excluding December 23. Sainsbury’s has 24 stores which will trade 24 hours in the run up to Christmas and 35 stores will trade from midnight on Christmas Eve. Waitrose is opening some stores until 11pm on December 21 and 22. As usual, Asda will operate some large store for 24 hours and extend openings for “a few hours” in the run-up to Christmas.  

Morrisons is opening its stores two hours longer from 7am to 11pm on average and is allowing shoppers to browse for an hour before opening for trade on Sunday December 23.

What does this mean for the Sunday trading laws debate?

The restriction on trading on December 23, regarded as the busiest day of the year for food shopping, has thrown the Sunday trading debate into the spotlight. Morrisons chief executive Dalton Philips and Asda boss Andy Clarke took the unusual step of writing a joint letter to business and enterprise minister Michael Fallon calling for a relaxation in Sunday trading laws on large stores as they were during the Olympics. However, their attempts appear to have been in vain striking a blow for those in favour of the one-day relaxation, which also include M&S, Next and Selfridges.

Not all retailers will be disappointed. Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King is against the permanent relaxation of Sunday trading rules and many retailers were indifferent after the Olympics relaxation. A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said the grocer would increase opening hours on December 23 but “this day is one of the exceptions that proves the rule about having flexibility around trading hours.”

However, hopes will be fading of a permanent relaxation of Sunday trading laws if the Government is unwilling to ease the rules on the busiest shopping day of the year.