By Carmen Chieregato
Small family stores usually decide to remain closed, as they have always done, while high street retailers, shopping centers, and hyper/supermarkets have eagerly taken advantage of the opportunity, opening 7 days a week throughout the year.
Nevertheless, while clients have quickly adapted to the new shopping schedules, a heated debate on the rightfulness, convenience, and sustainability of Monday to Sunday retail operations has arisen, solicited by different parts for different reasons. Prompted by complaints by workers who were called in to cover festive shifts, trade unions, political parties, retailers, commerce associations, consumer associations, and religious organizations have taken positions in favor or against Sunday openings.
What brings the issue to the media’s attention today is a draft law proposed by the current government that, if passed, would re-introduce mandatory closing on Sundays and festive days, with a maximum allowance of weekend openings to be decided by local governments (a waiver would be applied to tourist areas, although determining which districts had such requirements would be quite tricky for a country like Italy).
It is hard to predict the impact that the new law might have on the current Italian market. Since the 2009 financial crisis, consumption has slowly recovered, but it still remains flat. Moreover, consumers have changed their spending habits and patterns. Their appreciation of Sunday openings has been proven by data provided by the Italian Council of Shopping Centers (CNCC), which ranks Sunday as the second-best day for footfall and expenditure – the first being Saturday. Some argue that the liberalization of opening hours has only re-distributed the expenditure, not increased it, but the evidence is against this claim.
Following liberalization, shopping centers and retail parks have made investments in order to further increase their attractiveness and to engage families, young people, and older people, according to each shopping destination’s positioning and target audience. Aware of their social roles, shopping centers have even adapted their layouts, reducing underperforming retail areas in order to provide space for networking and recreational areas, enlarging food courts, as well as adding new services and leisure formats.
According to a recent study done by Bain & Company (quoted by “Il Sole 24 Ore”, December 18, 2018), in the first year following the enactment of the new law, retail sales would record a 13% drop, corresponding to 34 billion euros. In addition, 80,000 people would lose their jobs: 60,000 sales people employed at shopping centers plus 20,000 in wholesale distribution and other satellite activities.
How long will it take for customers to become re-accustomed to old opening schedules, changing established behaviors? Will small family stores, allegedly threatened by the overwhelming competition of shopping centers, really benefit from such a move, as some commentators say? Shopping centers have been striving, so far, to engage their customers with worthwhile experiences. Closing doors on weekends and holidays, when consumption is more likely to focus on leisure, might turn out to be a great advantage for e-commerce: a potentially dangerous step in the long struggle between brick and click.