Monday, March 19, 2012

London Retailers: Welcome to the 21st Century!

I've often been confounded at the seemingly random (and archaic) hours that retailers stay open for business on Sunday here in the UK.  Only in the Southern part of the US (where clearly, one must go to church before doing anything productive during the day, and return to church in the evening...) where I grew up have I ever experienced such a brevity of 'open for business' which typically meant noon to 6pm.

At the very least, given the size of the population (and spending power...) you would think that London businesses would be open at a more extended rate of time than they are.  Well, as of yesterday, I now know why these bizarre Sunday hours are what they are:  it's the law!

Only since 1994 have UK retailers been allowed to open on Sunday at all, and if you are a business with a shop of more than ~3000 square feet, you are restricted to be open no more than 6 hours on the day-and it has to be between the hours of 10am-6pm.   Also, apparently, only 53% of UK businesses are open on Sunday.  Crazy.

But wait:  that may all be about to change!  In an effort to 'stimulate the economy' during the Olympics and Paralympics, the Chancellor (think, 'UK Treasurer') is apparently soon to announce that they will suspend  Business Trading Hours rules on Sundays and allow shops to stay open for more than 6 hours.  Oh, and this is supposed to be a 'test' to see if the Trading Hours rules shouldn't be permanently suspended., the crap-tastic UK Economy (read:  recession-and possible soon to come double dip) of the past four years hasn't warranted a revision of these rules already? Are we really *just now* thinking, 'hey! there's this thing called the internet that is open for business 24/7/365...if we want UK brick & mortar retailers to continue to be competitive, perhaps we should allow them to um...compete?'

As progressive as I think the UK is on many social and economic matters, something like this creeps up that just makes me smack my forehead and shake my head in complete and utter confusion.


  1. LOL. I think this already progress. When I grew up in Germany (pre '94), working in retail was akin to a 9-5. Regular store hours (except for gas station convenience stores) where 8-6 on weekdays, and 8-12 on Sat. That's it. So if you worked, it was always a mad dash at the end of the day and on Sat morning to get your groceries.

    But that seemed all normal, it all depends on what you're used to.

    But then in the US we also have 40sqft/adult in retail space, 10x more than any other country. The US has turned retail from a service industry into an entertainment industry and major economic force. Well witnessed when you move and you have to get a roll-off dumpster to dispose of all the things you bought and probably could have done without.

    So I have to say the shopping hours are a double-edged sword. It's an inconvenience, but also a healthy restraint from overdosing and a good reminder that there are more natural forms of entertainment than shopping malls.

  2. I remember in the late 80's (cue croaky voice) when London retailers first tried flouting the laws. Tower Records was a huge store at Picadilly Circus (I think) that did it - and found out that the government fined you by the square foot. Oops.
    Where my mother lives in the north east of England, there are still some village shops that close for their half day at noon on Wednesdays. That's what I grew up with.
    Having said that, here in Chicago I can go shopping pretty much whenever I want, but they rope off the booze aisle till 11am every Sunday. In Arkansas, where my in-laws live, you can only buy Arkansas wine in stores, and in Utah,'s a whole nuther post about their alcohol selling gig.

  3. Agreed. I've already begun buying more and more groceries on Ocado as A, they are rarely out of anything, B, they deliver (no shlepping home and buying only what I can carry), and C, I CAN GET EGGS AND BACON BEFORE 11AM ON SUNDAY MORNING!

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  5. here in Australia only small retailers i.e. corner stores, fruit and veg grocers etc. were allowed to be open on Sundays but about 10 years ago they allowed Sunday trading across the board and because of that a lot of small business went under because most people would head to the supermarket instead of the corner store to get whatever they needed on a Sunday. there used to be a great fruit and veg store near us (they also sold milk) but Sunday trading put them out of business

  6. Great comments Jan & Expat Mum....
    'Normal' is always a matter of perspective, isn't it?

  7. That surprises me, I expected London to be like New York, the city that never sleeps....

  8. I'd happily shop at the corner store, but for me that is Tesco or Sainsbury. There simply isn't an independently owned "corner store" that I can go to instead.

  9. I believe it's our Religious Right (Christian Conservative MPs) which oppose a relaxation of the Sunday trading laws.

    See her for example -

    1. @Sam, thanks for the post. Great find. Ironically, as someone who hails from the most religiously conservative (southern..) part of the US, I didn't for a moment think the trading laws here would be constructed in the name of religion!

    2. I'm inclined to disagree, Sam. The religious right simply don't have much influence (if any at all) here in the UK. If anything, it's more to do with tradition than religion per se. We are a historically Christian country and we do have a state church, so many traditionalists (whether actually religious or not) oppose changes. They see it as an affront to our heritage.

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  11. Hi Kristina, Someone just introduced your blog to me. I'm an expat American that just relocated to the SouthCoast of England and your piece cracked me up. The random opening hours has me constantly boggled. If they're only open from 10-6 on Sun, chances are they're open till Midnight on Sat, or 10 pm on a Fri. But good luck trying to remember which shops follow which hours. Right now, I'm wrestling with finding bed linen with a thread count higher than 300 in chocolate brown. I'm starting to think its the quest for the holy grail but I haven't lost faith yet. If you know of any places I should look at, drop me a line!