So, would an extra 18 hours a week trading really make a difference? Evidence would suggest otherwise - this sign was outside Tesco Seacroft Extra back in July...
And this sign was outside today...
After just one month, a typical hypermarket with a genuinely wide catchment area has already decided that it doesn't need 6 of the extra hours on offer. It's a fair assumption to suggest that the hours at the other end of the day aren't the busiest of the week either.
The fact is that there's already 150 hours of trading available during the week and additional hours on a Sunday can only spell worsening quality in our shops. From a grocery point of view, 24 hour trading has been a disaster for store standards and Sundays provide a brief respite for stores. Overnight filling is still the most efficient replenishment method and should help manage inventory, both physical and recorded. Having to be conscious of customers wandering around restricts a store's ability to really crack on with a big delivery.
From the shopper's perspective, shopping when the twilight crew are about isn't the best experience as anyone who has had to shop an aisle filled with roll cages can testify to. Add in the checkout balancing act between having staff doing actual work and managing queues and you're not looking at the most efficient operation. I recently did a large trolley shop at 6.30 in the morning and had to use the self-scan tills. There was no one nearby so when the carrier bag scales finally gave up under the strain, I was left waiting for help. It was only by chance than an off-duty member of staff was also passing through at the same time and put his over-ride code in. At least that showed me Tesco do have staff that care even when they're off-duty!
I've also heard the libertarian view that government has no right to state when businesses can trade. Free market thinking and deregulation brought us the banking crisis so it's hardly a great starting point for an argument. This is a wonderful view for middle-class managers in comfy ivory towers, but a 24/7 culture puts added pressure on working class families. I absolutely agree with the right to open on Sunday and am certainly no religious person - I remember crossing lines of bible-bashers when my store first started opening back in the early '90s. Justin King has it right when he calls the current laws a "British compromise" and we should be proud of that. The current system guarantees many some down-time, something that's valuable in times like these where we all need to be working hard the rest of the time. There's no extra money to be spent, so what good would an extra 18 hours do?
It's not just the mults, my local Home Bargains has been trading 1 hour extra - last week at 4.40pm, there was me and some very bored looking staff. Busy? Not since 3 love came the reply.
Perhaps we should looking at shortening them, not lengthening them?