I was driving my car on Christmas Day and it was really nice to see that the majority of shops were shut. Some corner shops had opened for a few hours on Christmas morning, but by lunchtime most of these shops had closed.
As I drove around I saw young people playing football in the park in their new football tops and shiny new boots. I saw parents teaching kids how to ride their new bikes that they had got from Santa. I saw couples and families going for walks together spending time with each other. It was a snapshot of how things used to be in years long gone.
Inside, people’s houses had front rooms lit up with Christmas lights and families sat round in the warmth playing games, or eating and drinking together. Families spending time with each other, and playing with new toys and gadgets together, or watching films as a family.
I remember the days when shops were closed every Sunday and families used to do things together each week. These were also the days when people found their own activities to do on Sundays and it wasn’t just a ‘watered down Saturday’ as some people turn it into.
In 1994 in England and Wales, the laws were changed to allow shops to be able to open on Sundays and I think this was a major trigger for change that has affected society and family life significantly, and not necessarily for the better. But this may be nostalgic thinking.
Large stores in England and Wales (over 280 sq. metres) were allowed to open for a maximum of six hours on a Sunday for the first time. Smaller stores were allowed to open for longer. A number of larger stores have exemptions such as farm shops, petrol stations, motorway services, pharmacies and a few other categories of shops. Large stores are not allowed to open on Christmas Day or Easter Sunday. Small stores in England and Wales can open any day or hour.
We are more than likely moving towards a time when the larger stores look to extend their opening hours so that we have full hours for shopping seven days a week, and maybe sometime in the future even on Christmas Day too. In the July 2015 Budget, it was said that the laws relating to larger stores opening on Sundays may be relaxed to allow them to open for longer hours. I would see this as a retrograde step and not one that would benefit society and family life. We already see families spending too little time together.
Where we see on one hand the family time and leisure time for people, we also see on the other hand the benefits that Sunday trading brings.
Many smaller businesses need to open on Sundays as well to try and compete with the larger stores. These smaller firms are vital employers and they need to maximise their custom especially in financially trying times. The country needs its workers to be able to make a living wage and to make sure that opportunities are there for them to earn. If a small shop opened six days a week instead of seven, they would lose that extra day of sales and custom. They would lose the opportunity to be found by customers who may not have the chance to look around the shops any other day.
Customers like to browse, they like to see and feel the products, they like to compare quality between shop A and shop B. Whilst internet shopping has rocketed in recent years, people still like to go to a shop and look round and have that human interaction in shops too.
This interaction is often valued most with smaller independent shops and traders. Their personal service and attention to customer service is many a time better than in a number of larger store brands. I see the wishes of larger stores very differently to smaller independent outlets, where I perceive the customer to be valued a lot more than in the larger store where often they are more bothered about market share than customer satisfaction.
Whilst I do look fondly back at the days before Sunday trading came in, I do see the value of trading on the extra day bringing the added benefits of shops being open on a Sunday. I do look at days like Christmas Day when families spend more time together.
Money isn’t everything, and while it is vitally important for people to earn a wage, I also see the value of a ‘closed’ day. A day when shops are closed, when families can spend time together, a time when we can put commercial life on the back burner and look at doing some non-financial based activities and don’t forget that when all is said and done that family time is important. I think it is important that we keep those moments like that special and make the most of them.