Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shop-opening Hours

There's a deal of discussion going on where I live about extending the hours that shops are permitted to open - driven mainly by the large supermarkets who say it is about providing for their customers but are more likely to be driven by a desire to gain more market share because small businesses won't be able to compete. There's much talk about how convenient this will be when you can go and buy what you want whenever you want. The claim is that as businesses decide their own hours those who don't want to open won't have to but this is obviously not going to work. If you don't open your competitors will attract your customers away and your business will suffer. Of course, it will also suffer if you do open because your turnover will be affected by increased wages with little likelihood of more customers compensating for it because they have only a finite amount of money they can spend and the only difference will be the time at which they spend it.

No-one would deny that shopping hours are a complicated mish-mash here. Except in the city tourism precincts large retailers including supermarkets are open six days a week for varying hours according to the day of the week while smaller ones can - but usually don't - trade twenty four hours a day seven days a week. Shops that are deemed to be necessary for emergencies, convenience or recreation may trade between 6:00 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. seven days a week. This includes among others hardware stores, garden centres, boating shops, motor vehicle spare parts, video shops, souvenir shops, newsagencies and bookshops. You will note it doesn't include motor vehicle sales which have their own rules - consisting of five days a week with one evening and Saturday morning trading. The sale of fuel is unrestricted. However what can be sold at the service station shop is restricted.

Personally I have always found it simple enough to work around these hours because my hours have been nine to five, five days a week. There is ample time to do the shopping for anything I want if I give it a little thought.

It's not so simple for Pisces or Virgo, both of whom are in jobs that involve weekend work and are frequently rostered on Saturday or Sunday or both. Neither begrudges working but they both resent the social implications of working these hours. Obviously this applies to a lot of people - nurses, doctors, those who work in the hospitality industry, transport providers and many others. They all have the same problems. Here are a few.

When you work on weekends you can't:
1. play sport as part of a team because you can't play in a weekend match
2. attend sporting matches to follow a team on a regular basis
3. attend daytime events scheduled for weekends - festivals, concerts, picnics etc. Even twilight or early evening times mean the function is half over before you get there.
4. meet up with friends for a chat because when they are free you are working.
5. meet new people.

I heard someone ranting about this recently. Her view was that she can't buy what she wants because she is at work when the shops are open. This is not true, of course. She is a public servant who works in the City and doesn't work on Saturdays or Thursday or Friday evenings - depends on where you live - when all shops are open and she has lunch breaks as well.

I don't find this at all convincing - more, I think it is very selfish. Perhaps it should be all or nothing. I will support extended shopping hours when all businesses, including the public service, banks and other corporations, are also obliged to be open for the same time. Something tells me that she wouldn't find this as reasonable.

At present only a limited number of people's lives are affected but if we make the kind of changes that are proposed we are going to find there are hidden costs - those that the shift and weekend workers are already well aware of. We need to consider those costs before we follow blindly what has been done elsewhere. My personal view is that we, as a society, are better off when we keep one day a week free for the majority of the population to function as a family day. The irony of those supporting daylight saving as being better for family time while calling for extended trading hours which will take even more family time away has not escaped me.

Keeping things as they are won't improve my family's life much (Pisces will still miss out on social activities as will Virgo and I will still have to accept invitations to go by myself instead of as a couple) but if it is better for most people I think we should stick with it.


Satima Flavell said...

Another worry for WA is that if the supermarkets were open all hours (without even considering the fact that they would force the new hours on their employees without necessarily compensating them appropriately) is the fact the the bigger chains are all based in the Eastern States and have a lot of overseas connections, so the extra income the new hours engender will do WA little or no good, while local shops that currently offer evening trading will possibly be forced out of business.

You're right, Helen; the hours we have now are quite adequate. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

Imagine me said...

I agree with you there. We say to our children when they tell us "everybody's doing it" that it doesn't make it right. Most parents have at one time or another applied the "if everyone else was jumping off a cliff would you do it?" strategy or a variation on it. Perhaps we need to apply that to the adult world too. Sometimes change is desirable but it doesn't follow that it always is.