Are Sunday trading laws in England and Wales killing our high street? It could be argued that current inaction is killing our high street. Current laws were introduced in 1994, limiting the trading hours of large shops to six hours on Sundays. However, before this, shops were prohibited from opening on Sundays altogether, except for a few exemptions such as pharmacies and newsagents.
One of the main arguments for keeping Sunday trading laws is the protection of the family time. However, in the modern world where people work irregular hours and have different lifestyles, this argument seems increasingly outdated. Moreover, they are not fair to the high street stores. You can order goods online 24/7 and receive same-day delivery, yet are prohibited from physically visiting shops during certain hours on Sundays.
For example – I could order last Sunday afternoon for someone to deliver the following Sunday. Forgive me for misunderstanding the logic unless I was writing the laws in the 90s and failed to revise to help protect and help our high street thrive.
According to a report by the Centre for Retail Research, a total of 17,532 shops and other types of brick-and-mortar retail stores closed in the UK in 2021, which is an increase from 9,877 in 2020. Whilst some of this could be blamed on COVID – denial of the impact of changes in behaviou has
Indeed the closure of high-street stores in the UK is a clear indication of the need for change. In case you missed it here is just a few…
- Debenhams – In 2018, the department store chain announced plans to close 50 of its stores, and in 2020, the company went into administration and was eventually bought out by Boohoo. Also, my first job as a manager was at Debenhams, and was invaluable in gaining an understanding of retail and sales.
- Topshop – In 2021, Topshop’s parent company Arcadia Group went into administration, and the brand was subsequently purchased by ASOS.
- Toys R Us – The toy retailer went into administration in 2018 and closed all of its UK stores.
- BHS – In 2016, BHS went into administration and closed all of its stores, marking the end of the 88-year-old retailer.
- HMV – The music and entertainment retailer has undergone several changes over the last decade, including entering administration twice (in 2013 and 2018) and closing a number of stores. However, the company has continued to trade and has recently expanded into the gaming market.
- Maplin – The electronics retailer went into administration in 2018 and closed all of its stores.
- Poundworld – The discount retailer went into administration in 2018 and closed all of its stores.
- House of Fraser – In 2018, the department store chain was bought out of administration by Sports Direct and subsequently underwent a number of changes, including closing several stores.
Oh and let’s not forget the beloved Woolworths that I hope will make a return when the high street gets more support.
In many cases, these stores are unable to compete with their online counterparts who have the freedom to operate whenever the customer wants. Sunday trading laws restrict their ability to respond to changing customer needs, and this has a significant impact on their bottom line.
One fear of those defending Sunday trading laws is that relaxation could lead to the destruction of family time. However, this fear is not supported by the example of Scotland, where Sunday trading laws are different and have not resulted in any significant negative impact on family time or values.
Recent statistics show a shift towards online shopping, with more and more people opting for the convenience of online retailers. This trend is unlikely to reverse, and the longer the current laws remain in place, the greater the risk of the high street becoming a thing of the past.
It’s not if but when Sunday trading laws will change.
The bigger question is why lawmakers don’t make the change before it’s too late. The restrictions placed on high street stores by current laws are outdated and illogical and are hindering their ability to compete with their online counterparts. While the protection of family time is important, the changes in the way we work and live mean that these laws are no longer relevant.
Lawmakers either make the necessary changes to bring Sunday trading laws in line with the needs of modern society or sit back and watch our high streets die.
While the protection of family time is important, there are greater structural issues that need to be addressed to ensure this. The ability of a store to open (or not) on a Sunday is not going to sort this out. The changes in the way we work and live mean that these laws are no longer relevant. Lawmakers either make the necessary changes to bring Sunday trading laws in line with the needs of modern society or sit back and watch our high streets get murdered by their inability to respond to the modern world.