Fight Time? The Boxing Day Petition

The issue of opening hours for shops is something that has been an ever-present during my time as an academic.  The product-based absurdities of the late 1970s and early 1980s were eventually swept away as opening hours were modernised and Sunday trading permitted.  Living in Scotland of course we had our own non-rules.

The divergent and different patterns can cause some issues.  Restrictions on alcohol sales in Scotland operate within a more widespread laissez-faire general opening for all stores.  More restrictive opening in shops (especially large ones) in England and Wales are combined with more laissez-faire alcohol purchasing hours.  So in Scotland at 10.00 on a Sunday, the store is open but alcohol sales are banned.  In England and Wales, the store may or may not be open (10-4 or 11-5) but alcohol sales are permitted.

Now other tensions are coming to the fore.  The never ending retail Christmas and its pre-cursors of Black Friday (which is anything but one day), Cyber Monday, Traumatic Thursday or whatever, point to the pressures on retailers, consumers and workers.  And whilst Christmas Day has some degree of protection, Boxing Day has become another sales bonanza or furore.  Having retail sales on Boxing Day has become a ‘tradition’, switching from its previous focus on the New Year, but at what cost, and to whom?

That is why the petition to ban opening on Boxing Day has gathered some momentum.  Currently, standing at over 225,000 signatures at the time of writing, the petition calls on stores (especially supermarkets) to be stopped from opening on Boxing Day.  Quite why supermarkets have been singled out rather beats me, given where the sales focus of Boxing Day sales generally is; I would have thought that other sectors and chains would have been more the target? And the group that can most benefit from having time off is probably the family owned small shop; but of course they can least afford to take it.

We shall see if this petition gets more traction than others. The government response to questions has been to say that it does not interfere in trading strategies of retailers. This is of course utter garbage and as much post-truth as anything the President-Elect has uttered, though thankfully less dangerous. Trading hours are the subject of legislation, so that response to this petition is a reflection of will and desire not anything else.

The thrust of the petition is to have another day of rest, especially for workers.  With the Boxing Day sales frenzy, workers are under pressure both to prepare (on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day perhaps) the store for sales and to deal with the hordes (on Boxing Day and often from very early on in the day).  It is stressful and is an interruption to their Christmases as well; though they do get paid (which depending on how any restrictions were drawn up they might not do).

However a simple ban on physical shops opening faces a problem in the form of internet shopping.  With the recent Black Friday we saw heavy internet sales (some say more online sales than in stores but this seems unlikely unless a tight definition of what sales to include is used) and the same has been true of Christmas’ past, including sales on Christmas Day.  If the petition succeeds and stores are banned from selling and opening on Boxing Day, does this also apply to internet stores and sales and if so, how? Currently it would seem unlikely, this creating another anomaly. I doubt we can shut the internet for a day or two, as tempting for some as this may be.

So one side-effect of the petition (if it succeeded) could be to strengthen the hand of internet sites still further, adding to the pressures on physical stores and the drivers already struggling to deal with delivery of these online orders (and there has been a lot on this in the press recently – an Amazon example here).

We can perhaps sympathise with some of the underlying aims of the petition, but making it work across the UK (whatever that is in retail hours terms) is rather more complicated.  Which has sort of been the story of all regulation on shop opening hours over the last hundred years or so.