Asda chief pushes politicians to relax Sunday trading laws
09 February 2015 -
Supermarket boss attempts to exert influence on political parties in run up to election – but is it just because his brand is losing market share?
The leader of Britain’s second-biggest supermarket chain has called for the next government to change Sunday trading laws. Asda chief executive Andy Clarke says that the restricted supermarket hours on Sundays is unfair on the consumer, as shoppers are forced to buy the same goods at pricier convenience stores outside the hours that larger shops are licensed to trade in.
Currently, stores in excess of 3,000 sq ft can remain open for a maximum of six hours between 10am and 6pm on a Sunday – but smaller outlets are allowed to open for as long as they wish. That puts Asda, in particular, at a disadvantage, as rival supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op have exploited the loophole to dominate convenience stores across England and Wales. In Scotland, by contrast, there are no trading restrictions.
“I want [the laws] changed,” said Clarke. “Why is it right for a customer who wants to buy their milk, eggs or bread before 10am on a Sunday or after 4pm in the afternoon have to pay 30% more for their goods? That’s just fundamentally wrong. That, for me, is an example of Rip-Off Britain.”
He added: “You can online shop which you can do any time of the day. We’ve got a two-tier approach to the Sunday shopping experience, which isn’t helpful for the high street.”
As a powerful chief executive of a major company, Clarke has arguably set out to exert a direct influence on the leaders of the main political parties, as they head into a closely contested election. Indeed, last week’s attacks on Labour leader Ed Miliband from Boots boss Stefano Pessina and retail guru Sir Stuart Rose highlighted the well-known business leaders’ ambitions to influence policies and announcements in the business arena.
Despite having more than 500 stores throughout the UK – many of which are open 24 hours a day, Monday to Saturday – and ranking as one of the country’s leading retailers over the past decade, Asda is under increasing pressure after losing market share to discount chains Aldi and Lidl. Initially, the current crop of Sunday trading laws were passed to placate religious and trade-union groups, who sought to preserve Sunday’s status as a family and leisure day for workers, while giving independent high street stores an opportunity to attract consumers.
However, retailers have previously been able to force a change in the regulations. While a temporary measure, the 2012 London Olympic Games enabled supermarkets to remain open on Sundays without any time restrictions to capitalise on the extra trade. Interestingly, though, most retailers reported that customer traffic remained unchanged from before the Olympics.
Pro-retail campaigning group Open Sundays said that the rise of online shopping means that current laws are outdated: “Sunday trading reform would be good for consumers, good for the high street and good for shop workers,” it said.
Conversely, Tesco and Sainsbury’s – who have found success with their convenience store portfolios – are happy with the current rules. A Tesco spokesman backed occasional liberalisation, but stopped well short of agreeing with Clarke: “We know our customers appreciated the extra flexibility on a Sunday around the Olympics, and would not be opposed to seeing this repeated, for example around Christmas. Such a decision is, of course, a matter for government, striking the right balance between this extra flexibility and the growing number of ways there are for customers to shop already.”
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Image of Asda sign courtesy of JuliusKielaitis / Shutterstock.
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