One running story dominated the early years of Retail Week more than any other – the battle over Sunday trading. It was bitterly fought and dragged on for years, and it was perhaps inevitable that what would emerge from the process would be an unsatisfactory compromise.
15 years on, Sunday trading has become a way of life. It gives working people more freedom to shop at a time that suits them, and allows them to add shopping onto their other Sunday leisure experiences.
Crucially, those who warned of the dire social consequences of liberalising Sunday shopping have been proved wrong. We have plenty of social problems, but none of them have anything to do with people having more time to shop, and no one is forced to shop or work on a Sunday.
So now we’ve proved that it works, as we pass the 15th anniversary of the legalisation of Sunday trading it’s time to ditch the unsatisfactory compromise of six hours’ trading and allow stores to trade freely, as they do on other days of the week.
Anyone who’s been to Ikea on the Sabbath knows that Sunday shopping has been a victim of its own success. The six-hour restriction compresses shopping into a limited time frame, making it a less pleasant experience.
But the biggest change is that 15 years ago we didn’t have the internet. If high streets and shopping centres are to retain their vitality, the minimum they need is to be able to operate on a level playing field with their online rivals.
Sunday shopping has been an unqualified success. Whether it’s this government or the next one, taking the shackles off once and for all is the right thing to do.
Still space for specialists
With the number of collapses over the past year, you could be forgiven for thinking that specialist retailers are an endangered species. But, as the retailers in our feature on page 34 – and many others – show, there is still room for those with the right product and right proposition to make an impact.
Many of these businesses have prospered by really knowing their customer, helped by the fact that their typical customer is themselves or their friends. It’s not a bad place to start and, with a cautious and sensible approach to expansion, there’s no reason why many of them won’t continue to prosper.