The Government recently confirmed plans to extend Sunday opening hours during the London Olympics. There are mixed opinions from retail businesses across the country about the change. As the Centre Director at shopping centre Festival Place, it was in my hands to talk to our retailers to gauge their thoughts on the news.
Festival Place has over 200 establishments including shops, bars, restaurants, a cinema, a nightclub and a gym. I was intrigued to find the consensus view that was no business had yet made a decision. But more to the point, businesses do not feel any sense of urgency to make a decision quickly – even though the Olympics is less than one hundred days away! And with smaller establishments only considering opening if the big players were, such as department stores and large retail brands, we find ourselves in a stalemate situation.
From many years of experience working in the industry I am confident other shopping centres have found themselves in a very similar position. The final decision is down to the retailers and other establishments in the centre. If they want to open Festival Place will support them. However, after speaking with them in much detail it is very easy to see why no-one is willing to make a move fast.
Businesses always strive to influence shoppers’ buying behaviours and habits in order to make them spend with them, return and recommend. Trading hours have not experienced much change in the past few years; therefore customers have a pattern of when, where and what time they like to shop.
To influence a consumer and change behaviour such as the time they spend on a Sunday on the high street, in a retail park, or a shopping centre, is not a process any marketing or PR tool can change overnight. This instantly opens up concerns. The extended Sunday trading hours over the Olympics will take place over just eight weeks; it is simply not enough time for retailers – large or small - to encourage and entice shoppers to visit them in these extra hours.
I do have to point out that my view comes from a town outside London. For retailers in central London I can undoubtedly see the benefits the extended trading hours will have for them.
The Olympics is hoping to attract around four million tourists. That’s a huge surge of extra potential customers to entice through your door! Tourists are bound to be out and about late during the Olympics; therefore, in Central London making the profits outweigh the costs by a decent margin shouldn’t be too hard.
Call me cautious, but this is the only area out of thousands of towns and cities across the country where retailers can be confident that the extra hours will have a positive impact. This does lead on to think about what effect extended Sunday trading hours will have if the rule becomes permanent.
From speaking with the retailers in the centre one very clear message was - current Sunday trading hours are profitable. The hours are compact, which means operating costs are low, and there is a steady customer footfall. For many retailers Sunday’s are more profitable than weekdays.
Weekdays retailers can be open from 9am to 9pm and often experience disjointed footfall and sales. This did ring alarm bells for extended Sunday trading laws becoming permanent - the Government think it will be good for business, but talk to businesses and they’re not yet convinced.
Whatever decision shopping centres and retailers come to for the Olympics, one thing is certain - as an industry we need to ensure we communicate thoroughly to our customers. The message could become confused if some retailers are open and others not. The last thing we want to is upset or frustrate shoppers who make an effort to visit an establishment when it is not open for business!
Steven Connolly, Centre Director at Basingstoke Shopping Centre, Festival Place