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Open All Hours

Twenty years since retail trading laws were last altered, the government has announced that they are to be liberalised. Frankly, we can’t believe it’s taken so long.

Whilst some will argue the case for protecting Sundays from commercialism, existing laws are, in reality, nothing short of archaic and out of kilter with the modern world that we live in.

Retailing today is almost unrecognisable from the world of Open All Hours. Back then the nearest a shopper had to online purchasing was “buying clothes from catalogues”. There is also no doubt that Arkwright would have shuddered at the thought of grocery retailing’s current obsession with selling so many goods on promotion – 2p off tinned carrots was about the limit for the much-loved comedy character.

There used to be a time when shops would have a half-day closing on a Wednesday – remember that? Back in 1912, the Shop Hours Act came into force entitling shop staff to a half-day off work, bringing their average working week down to 5½ days. Essentially, the law remained in force until being repealed in 1994. Yes, it took that long for the powers that be to realign legislation so that it better reflected the modern day demands of retailers, and desires of shoppers.

When the trading laws were relaxed in the 1990s, stores were finally also able to open on a Sunday for the first time. Previously, Sunday in Britain was for many people a dismal experience, centred on visiting relatives, sitting down to eat a meal in ten minutes that took hours to make, and then gathering around the TV for the rest of the day. Those seeking solace in a pub would typically be disappointed, as licensing restrictions prevented landlords from serving in the afternoon or beyond 10.30 p.m.

Today, convenience is everything. It seems absurd that shoppers are unable to visit their local store after 5pm on a Sunday, but they can have their goods delivered to their door. The warehouses operated by the likes of Amazon and Very would dwarf the current size restrictions that limit a store’s Sunday opening hours. But could you imagine websites being forced to go offline on a Sunday evening?

Just because a store is closed, it doesn’t mean that a retailer’s operation grounds to a halt. Thousands of people are still working day and night to keep shelves stocked and online orders fulfilled. It’s the same story when it comes to support partners for retail installation, with the very best providing retailers with 24/7 access to project data and updates on progress against target, as well as dedicated project managers – day and night.

It’s true that as stores open ever-longer hours, it does pose very real challenges for those teams tasked with implementation large-scale in-store change programmes. Entire outgoing permanent display units have to be dismantled, replaced and remerchandised before the store re-opens, so that neither trading or the shopping experience are not negatively impacted upon. It’s a huge undertaking that requires weeks of detailed pre-planning by installation specialists, and dedicated well-drilled teams on the ground to make it happen – sometimes visiting multiple stores in just a single night.

In Boots stores, for example, CJ Retail Solutions managed the installation of 188 tonnes (or nearly 4,000 pallets) of retail furniture into 300 stores during a 5-night period – ensuring everything was installed between close of trading one day and store opening the next, so that stores were ready for ‘business as usual’ come the morning. With 124 installers working through the night – clocking up over 5,500 installation hours and 635 hours of project management time – it represented one of the biggest coordinated in-store launches of 2014. For us, it’s a story that is repeated in stores up and down the country – week in, week out.

To view modern retail as being defined by when the shutters on the high street are up or down is ridiculous. Chancellor George Osborne has said the time is right for the issue to be reconsidered via a consultation process. But is there really anything to talk about? Surely, the time has arrived for common sense to prevail.

In truth, closing the doors to shoppers has always been far from the end of a store’s day. But these latest changes in trading laws could be set to bring two very distinct challenges for retailers. Firstly, will be an opportunity to rethink the weekend shopping experience – a chance to not only sell for longer, but to create something new and exciting to capitalise on the extra hours of trading which new laws will bring. And secondly, and most importantly from an operational perspective, there will be an even greater need for retailers to ensure they have effective and efficient processes in place to successfully manage the implementation of new display solutions within an even narrower project window. As a business, we’re certainly open to the opportunities that particular challenge will bring.