Written evidence submitted by Asda (ENT 70)

Asda: Sunday Trading Proposals


· Asda welcomes the Government’s commitment to liberalise Sunday Trading laws. We have long campaigned for the freedom to offer our customers the choice to shop seven days a week, at a time of their convenience. This would support customer choice, give greater flexibility for colleagues and help level the playing field for multi-channel retailers.

· Despite the growth of online sales, for many customers, factors such as the quality of customer service, the ability to touch and feel a product, and the human interaction involved in visiting a store remain significant. Extending Sunday Trading hours would enable Asda stores to reflect consumer demand better and remove the current disadvantage faced by large bricks-and-mortar retailers compared to online retailers.

· However, we are concerned that proposed amendments to devolve powers to the most local level and allow councils to "zone’ any relaxation, will lead to:

o confusion among customers;

o increased red tape;

o a complex and patchwork approach across England and Wales;

o retailers like Asda, with larger ‘out-of-town’ stores, being left at a competitive disadvantage compared to those competitors with convenience formats in town centres, who often charge higher prices for a smaller product range; and

o constricted customer choice that negatively impacts those on low incomes.

· As outlined in our consultation response (please see attached [1] ) we propose that any decisions regarding Sunday Trading hours must be made at the highest authority of power holding responsibility for Sunday Trading rules in that area, with a presumption in favour of liberalisation on any decision.

· We view these proposals as a first step in the Government’s commitment to liberalise Sunday Trading laws, which we believe should ultimately lead to the national liberalisation of Sunday Trading in England and Wales the model in place for Scotland. We believe giving businesses the flexibility to choose the hours they trade would be a key step towards creating an environment that is both pro-business and pro- consumer choice.

Our concerns

Devolution at the right level

It is vitally important that the relaxation of Sunday Trading laws is done in the right way.

For business, consistency is crucial and we welcome the Government’s commitment to reduce red tape. Amending the Sunday Trading Act 1994 will not, however, be welcomed if the alternative is too complex and results in a patchwork of different approaches to Sunday Trading hours across England and Wales. As such, we have argued that any decision on giving businesses the flexibility to choose their own trading hours must be made at the highest authority in that area.

The recent proposed amendments still leave significant room for confusion for businesses and consumers alike. While we welcome the announcement to devolve powers to directly elected mayors of combined authorities, we are concerned devolution to the most local level will mean navigating possibly hundreds of different Sunday Trading policies, and potentially many policies within a single local authority. This would place a strain on businesses and cause confusion for consumers.

Creating a level playing field

Specifically, we are concerned by the amendment to allow councils to "zone" any relaxation. This is likely to lead to confusion among customers and keep sites classed as ‘out-of-town’, in planning terms, at a disadvantage compared to competitors with convenience formats trading closer to the centre. In fact, many of our stores are only a mile out of the town centre.

Given that these convenience stores are more expensive than shopping in the same company’s larger stores (and on average 10-15% more expensive than Asda stores, which have a single price file across the UK) this restricts customer choice and limits their access to the best value. In our response to the Government’s consultation on Sunday Trading laws we strongly opposed the example given of local authorities excluding out-of-town supermarkets.

We reiterate the strong belief stressed in our consultation response that there should be a presumption in favour of liberalisation on any decision, similar to the presumption for sustainable development in the National Planning Policy Framework. The onus should be on those opposing liberalisation to prove why the flexibility to decide opening hours on a Sunday should not be offered to all businesses in their local area.

If powers to liberalise Sunday Trading hours are given to the elected representatives outlined in the Government’s amendments to the Enterprise Bill, we would encourage them to ensure crucial safeguards for local authorities are in place including proper impact assessments, robust community consultations and an appeals process are implemented.

Why we support Sunday Trading

The economic case

We believe it is common sense to extend Sunday Trading hours across England and Wales and welcome the Government’s understanding of the importance of modernising Britain’s retail environment and encouraging economic growth. The 1994 Sunday Trading regulations are out dated. They do not reflect 21st century shopping habits, where customers are able to purchase goods online and online retailers have the freedom to deliver at any time on a Sunday.

Ensuring Britain is open for business should be a driving factor for any Government. Giving businesses the flexibility to choose the hours they trade is a key step towards creating an environment that is both pro-business and pro-consumer choice. The emphasis on choice should not be underestimated – if there is no demand for longer Sunday opening in an area, then businesses will not open. If, however, the demand is there, businesses should be able to respond to this.

There is strong evidence for the economic benefit of extended trading hours on Sunday, gained during the special derogation granted for the eight-week period of the 2012 London Olympics. When Asda extended its opening hours for the 2012 Olympics, there was a clear net benefit, both to the company and wider economy. We saw a sales uplift across the period and improved performance across all of our store formats.

Customer choice

Our research from September 2015 shows the majority of our customers agree with a relaxation in Sunday Trading hours, citing more flexibility to fit around work/family commitments and less crowding as key reasons for wanting longer opening hours. Non- Sunday shoppers tell us they would also make use of extended opening times, with 54% of those in favour of liberalisation stating that they would shop more on Sundays as a result (compared to 14% who said they wouldn’t). These customers also overwhelmingly (92%) say that supermarkets opening later would be of use to them personally.

Customers would benefit financially from the availability to choose where to shop, rather than being limited to small-format stores in town centres which often charge higher prices than large supermarkets. The current Sunday Trading restrictions limit choice and competition and disadvantage customers on low incomes.

Colleague choice

There would be no compulsion for colleagues in England and Wales to work longer hours if they choose not to and they would reserve the right to opt out of Sunday working entirely. All colleagues are informed of their Sunday working rights when they start employment at Asda and our Sunday working policy is available for all store People Managers to access. We do not currently pay a Sunday premium. Any change to the policy in England and Wales would not impact on colleagues who currently work on a Sunday in England, or those who work the permitted longer hours on Sunday in Scotland.

In fact, we believe the move to relax Sunday Trading laws would be welcomed by colleagues who tell us they enjoy the opportunity to work at weekends when family responsibilities are usually less restrictive. Weekend shifts are of particular benefit to colleagues with childcare responsibilities or those who balance work with studying. Many of our colleagues in Scotland already seek to work full shifts on Sundays because it fits with their family commitments.

About Asda

Founded in the 1960s in Yorkshire, Asda is one of Britain’s leading retailers and helps customers save money and live better. Each week more than 18 million customers visit its 616 stores - including 32 Supercentres, 332 Superstores, 34 Asda Living stores, 201 Supermarkets, and 15 standalone petrol stations - which are served by more than 172,000 colleagues. Our websites, www.asda.com and www.george.com, deliver to 99% of the UK’s homes and to its 650 click and collect sites. Our home office is in Leeds, Yorkshire and its George clothing division is in Lutterworth, Leicestershire. Asda joined Walmart, the world’s number one retailer, in 1999.

February 2016

[1] Not published.


Prepared 24th February 2016