This year’s budget and London 2012 are both anticipated to trigger a review of the UK’s Sunday trading laws. Consumers can already shop for up six hours on a Sunday, yet the government is considering relaxing these laws to allow retailers to trade more like any other day.

Retailers think it could help increase trading and the economy in the long-run – they anticipate incremental sales by opening for a few more hours while religious leaders and shop worker unions are in strong opposition. Even in our office, never has such a small change in policy created such strong opposing views. So what are the issues? Well, here are some from the healthy debate we’ve had at The Behaviours Agency offices.

Christian church leaders believe that the ‘specialness’ of Sunday is being eroded and are no doubt concerned that church attendance figures will drop off even further. Some are even arguing that allowing Sunday morning opening of shops is deliberately sabotaging church services by overlapping with them. This leads on to many other points – what about those religions for which Friday or Saturday is their holyday rather than Sunday? Is, or should, the UK be a Christian society, are we not a secular or multi-faith society?

When you look at the issue from an international level, the issue becomes even more clouded. Many of the overtly Christian states in the US are happy to have shops open all day on a Sunday and yet some of the more secular countries of mainland Europe have maintained that shops should remain shut all day. This issue is clearly about more than religion.

What about families wanting to spend time with each other and preserve the ritual of Sunday in a more general sense? For many, the convenience and flexibility of additional opening hours could actually make an improvement to family time. However, the more pull factors there are to take people away from the home, the less likely the family unit will be spending the day together.

And what of those who work in the front line of the retail industry that could see themselves working long hours on a Sunday and not seeing their families at all? The retailers are assuring their workers that Sunday working will remain voluntary and choosing not to work will not be frowned upon, but will this last in the long-term?

What about the inconsistency across other sectors? No-one seems to care about the retail workers in train-stations, airports or motorway service stations – we expect these shops to be open on Sundays. And, what about workers in the leisure industry? It’s fine for them to work on a Sunday isn’t it, or how would we partake in the Sunday rituals of visiting a museum, going out for a meal or early morning exercising at the gym?

Then there’s the economic viewpoint. Additional trading hours have been proven to increase revenues for retailers in the run up to Christmas and in one-off holidays, but will that really remain true for every Sunday over time to cover the increased operational costs? If it is beneficial to retailers, do consumers really need to be spending even more of their hard-earned cash in this time of austerity. Perhaps watching the pennies would be more sensible? At least the increased hours should increase employment for the retailers and also ancillary services around the stores.

For me, all of these considerations are irrelevant. The horse has already bolted – opening for six hours on a Sunday already impacts far more on all of the above than opening a bit earlier and staying open a little later. Also, the web already offers 24/7 shopping, so people can already shop as early or as late as they like on a Sunday.

I believe that the freedom of choice should lie with the consumer and those who work in the service industry should be ready to serve when it suits their customer. We’re all so busy these days and increasing the overall time available to shop should save time by reducing busyness and queuing. We should be able to spend our evenings, weekends and even Sunday mornings using retail services if we want to. I just wish someone would tell this to the banking sector!

In our office at least, the debate rages on…

Adam Tregaskis
The Behaviours Agency