Should Sunday trading laws in England be relaxed?

Many retail and place-related people on Twitter are often on the same page, but Sunday trading laws in England are a topic that really polarises opinion.

Many of the people I’m connected to on Twitter – and who I most respect – are pretty much on the same page when it comes to key themes about the future of high streets and retail.

But Sunday trading laws in England seem to be a topic that really polarises opinion – as illustrated by a thread like this.

I’ll admit, I struggle to argue that existing Sunday trading laws are justified when any of us can order from Amazon whenever we like. And Scotland, of course, already has no Sunday trading restrictions at all.

I also have difficulty with the argument that relaxing Sunday trading laws presents a threat to smaller retailers. After all, the big supermarkets have already invaded this space with their sub-3,000-sq-ft convenience stores, deliberately designed to get round this loophole.

During COVID-19, I and many others have highlighted the value that local, independent convenience stores have delivered to their communities, which has been reflected in more people shopping there. This is something to be celebrated, and will more likely than not continue.

However, arguments against relaxed Sunday trading sometimes frame independents as needing other stores to be closed in order to thrive. I disagree – the best independents, which offer customers a better range, service and experience than their rivals, will thrive anyway; they don’t require a captive audience.

Equally, are experts on high streets not always saying that shops should open when customers require them, rather than when they’ve always traditionally been open? In some places – but certainly not all – being open longer on Sunday might well be part of this equation.

Having said all this, is now the time for a change to Sunday trading laws in England? Probably not – it needs to be more than a kneejerk reaction to COVID-19.

Will longer Sunday trading now suddenly boost the economy by providing an outlet for all our pent-up demand to shop? Again, probably not, given that it may well be a long time before all shops can justify opening for even the full hours they did pre-COVID.

It’s not a debate that’s going to go away, though – and as long as that’s the case, there’s probably room for arguments on all sides to be a bit more nuanced, reflective and consistent.

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