Belfast Telegraph

Shopping on Sundays still divisive

By Donald C McFetridge

Nationally, news that there could be changes on the way for retailers in respect of opening hours for trading on Sundays has, not surprisingly, opened another can of worms. Some are supportive of the idea; others are not.

The current legislation in Northern Ireland permits large retailers to trade for five consecutive hours between 1pm and 6pm, while small shops (under 280 square metres) can open any hours they want on Sundays.

Avaricious retailers are always keen to trade for as many hours and on as many days of the week as possible, while groups such as Keep Sunday Special (KSS) are keen to limit Sunday opening hours.

Some shop workers were much keener to work on Sundays when they received higher rates of pay, but that has all changed and many claim they are forced to work on Sundays in order to keep their jobs.

The trade union Usdaw appears to support their concerns and argues that extending opening hours on a Sunday will not, in fact, create more jobs in the retail sector.

Consumers vary in their opinions, too, with some looking forward to a bit of retail therapy on Sundays, while others oppose the proposed changes for a variety of reasons, from the idea of it breaking up family traditions to other views based on religious beliefs.

It still shocks me that, in spite of all the brouhaha about business rates and the expense of running retail outlets these days, in a large number of towns across the province, some retailers still shut up shop at lunchtime and take a "half day", or "day off", in the week.

At the end of the day, consumers only have a limited amount of money to spend and - logically - by extending opening hours on a Sunday, they are only encouraging consumers to spread their spending over seven (as opposed to six) days a week.

However, it does appear that the concept of having six days to labour and do all our work is changing and (in the age of the internet) we now need an extra day to shop and spend.

  • Donald C McFetridge is a retail analyst at the Ulster University Business School

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