Britain's Sunday trading laws make it even harder for the high street to survive
At 5pm on Sunday, December 23, at the height of the Christmas shopping frenzy, Tesco in Liverpool One closed its doors. Many other stores shut at the same time.
Seven hours later, at midnight, Tesco re-opened and continued trading until 7pm on Christmas Eve. Such is the craziness of Britain's Sunday trading laws.
At every hour of the day and night over Christmas, millions of people bought goods online without restriction. Is it any wonder so many on the high street are struggling to survive? ...
This week, shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has said the UK should adopt a US initiative to encourage shoppers to use small local shops - Small Business Saturday.
Sounds a bit of a gimmick to me. I've said before in this blog that if people choose to shop online rather than on the high street, then so be it. However, it sees unfair if high street stores have to compete with one hand tied behind their backs.
In the run-up to Christmas, the chief executives of two of Britain's biggest supermarket chains wrote to the Government asking for a temporary lifting of Sunday trading restrictions on December 23.
But Dalton Philips of Morrisons and Andy Clarke of Asda were rebuffed by ministers who told them there were "legal issues" preventing such a move.
Mr Philips said: "Businesses go out of business if they are not fleet of foot, because they can't adapt. The Government hasn't been able to adapt on this Sunday. I worry that if they can't adjust on something small like that, how on earth are they going to be able to adapt on the big stuff?"
It is a fair point. Internet shopping is getting bigger and bigger. On Boxing Day alone Britons spent a record 14m hours trawling websites paying around 113m visits to online retailers.
In the last few days one retail analyst, Professor Joshua Bamfield predicted 50,000 job losses on the high street this year as the online boom sends more shops to the wall.
Our current Sunday trading laws date back to 1994 and it restricts shops of more than 3,000 sq ft in size to just six hours of trading and only between 10am and 6pm.
Typically, outlets in city centres and out-of-town retail parks will open for trading from 11am to 5pm with some opening their doors half an hour before to allow customers "browsing time".
There are those that point out that having a day when shops are not open for as long isn't going to kill us. It's a view with some validity but it misses the point.
As detailed above, 24/7 online shopping means that ship has well and truly sailed. It's simply absurd that I can buy a TV from Currys online at 5.30pm but not from one of its stores.
The main opponents of liberalised Sunday trading are the Christian churches and trade unions.
We live in a mult-cultural, multi-faith society so I think its time we stopped allowing the reverend gentlemen to dictate how we live our lives.
As for the unions. It is right that they should safeguard the interests of shop workers. However, there are now countless business sectors, including the one I work in, that operate seven days a week and in some cases 24 hours a day.
There is no longer any logic to making retail workers a special case.
Restricting shop opening hours in an era of 24/7 online trading makes no sense.