Could longer opening hours rejuvenate the high street?

By Thomas Quinton, Chief Customer Officer, REPL

Following what has been an extremely challenging year for the high street, attention has turned to helping shops increase their sales following the easing of lockdown restrictions at the start of December. To assist ailing retailers, the UK government has announced that shops in England can stay open for 24 hours across the festive period and into January. Prominent stores have already announced that they will look to capitalise on the opportunity to sell their products round-the-clock. With this Christmas looking a little different to usual, retailers need to embrace new ways of trading, but how much of a difference will extended opening hours make?

Festive period opportunities

While many of those who did more online shopping during lockdown have maintained these behaviours post-lockdown, the added convenience of stores being open longer could help this trend to be reversed. Extended opening hours will mean greater flexibility and will also allow retailers to better compete with the convenience offered by online shopping. In fact, it could see more consumers turning to the high street to get their hands on products quickly, rather than waiting a day or more for delivery from eCommerce sites.

Retailers have an opportunity to cement their status as a place where consumers can easily and quickly get their hands on whatever they need, helping high street shops to be the go-to destination for shoppers. Many retailers are likely to also have significant levels of stock for the festive period, and the new rules will give greater opportunity for more products to be sold, helping to maintain margins and minimise any waste post-Christmas.

Considering the wider impact

Despite the benefits of the new rules, retailers need to consider the impact it will have on their employees. For many retail workers, being able to pick up extra hours or shifts in the run-up to Christmas will be welcome news, but if the change becomes permanent it may leave others feeling forced into working certain days or longer unsociable hours. It will therefore be key for retailers to give their employees as much flexibility as possible with their choice of shifts. With longer hours, retailers will also have to consider the best time to schedule deliveries to arrive and when staff will be able to restock shelves to limit the impact on customers.

Laying the foundations for long-term change

In an immediate sense, extended opening hours provides retailers the opportunity to sell more of their Christmas stock and make back lost revenue. However, retailers will need to devise a strategy to compete against online retailers in the long-term and ensure that shoppers keep returning to the high street. Retailers can take this opportunity to gauge whether there is an appetite for a more permanent change to high street opening hours. By giving retailers the choice to open longer in the future, the ability to recoup lost revenue and offer a more convenient service could help boost their recovery beyond the pandemic.

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