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Retail Opening Hours in Europe: Regulations vs. consumer interests

Most European countries have regulations on store opening hours, but they vary widely. Most countries that regulate store hours are concerned with the interests of workers, consumers and businesses. However, countries that lift restrictions could boost the economy and eliminate unfair competitive distortions between stores and e-commerce. See our overview of opening hours in Europe.

Across Europe, there are only a few countries left that refrain from opening supermarkets and retail stores on Sundays. Besides Austria, these are Germany, Greece, Poland and Slovenia. Representatives of shopping centers in these countries justifiably ask why the doors of retail outlets and shopping centers are not allowed to be open for at least a few Sundays a year. In Austria, for example, the trade association ACSC has demanded at least six Sunday openings per year without special regulations for domestic retailers.

Below is an overview of the store opening hours in Europe:

Albania10:00-21:0009:00-21:00 09:00-21:00unrestricted
Bosnia and Herzegovina09:00-21:0009:00-21:0009:00-21:00unrestricted
Croatia09:00-21:3009:00-21:3009:00-21:30restricted: stores will only be able to open on 16 Sundays a year
(in most regions unrestricted)
(in most regions unrestricted)
Spain10:00-22:0010:00-22:0010:00-22:00restricted: smaller cities and towns do not keep stores open on Sundays

Uniformity, border traffic and e-commerce

The two most important arguments in favor of a freer adjustment of store opening hours are, first, that a uniform regulation within Europe is in line with other freedoms of movement. Retailers in countries with a more regulated market are at an enormous disadvantage, especially when they are close to the border. The capitals of Vienna and Bratislava, for example, are 80 km apart. While there are no restrictions in Slovakia, retailers in Austria have to keep their doors closed on Sundays.

The second argument is to maintain competitiveness against online retail. ECommerce, as the biggest competitor of domestic retail, is known to know no opening hours and is available to visitors 24/7.

The fact is that opening hours depend heavily on the power of vested interests. Especially in countries like Germany and Austria, the lobby of employees is very active. However, the past few years in particular show that many countries are much more consumer-oriented and are adapting their opening hours to this end for the benefit of retailers. Consequently, a number of European countries have undertaken deregulation.

In 2016, for example, Hungary lifted its ban on Sunday work in response to massive consumer opposition. Finland also lifted a ban again to accommodate consumer interests. An important argument was that neighboring Sweden did not apply working time restrictions and drew away many Finnish shoppers on weekends. This resulted in less retail competitiveness in Finland. The lifting of restrictions is therefore expected to boost the economy and eliminate unfair distortions of competition between stores and e-commerce.