Sunday retailing and religious festivals

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Cast your minds back to the Summer – the Olympics were about to happen, the weather was appalling and we were given longer opening hours on Sundays for the larger stores. The reasoning? To allow all the visitors to the Olympics to shop ‘normally’ on a Sunday.

20121223-125234.jpgIt doesn’t appear to have had much of an effect on the big stores figures, and from what they reported they weren’t actually that bothered with longer hours! But it was allowed for a sporting event.

Roll forward six months and there is a bit of a religious festival about to occur (Christmas for those who don’t know) – and Sunday was the penultimate day for shopping. It was therefore rather busy especially in the supermarkets. Marks and Spencer’s in West Bridgford being a classic example with people queuing around the store for the tills (and having to wait to even get into the store!) the reason for this? Sunday trading laws, normally M&S could spread the rush over at least 12 hours rather than 5!

So my question is – why if we can change the Sunday trading laws (in place for religious reasons allegedly) for a sporting event (non religious) why can’t we change them for a religious festival?

Is it me or is there something not quite right here!

The rush towards Christmas?

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The times as Bob Dylan sang ‘are a changing’ – the business world is a very different place to the one we were used to for the last 10 years! In many ways this is not a bad thing, the banks as I see it are now going back to the principles of ‘proper’ banking that I certainly grew up with. And to be fair to them they will admit that this is the way forward.

Client relationships are also now becoming much more important again – you need to be able to trust your  professional advisors and their advice, the days of shopping around for the best price are still around, but the pool of advisors is smaller and ‘better’.
One of the changes that has really reared its head this year though is the rush towards Christmas. Up until the mid to late 90’s there was always a mad rush to get deals and work completed before the Christmas break. This all but disappeared in the ‘good times’ (perhaps because deals were easy to complete), but this year it is back with a vengeance!
Hopefully a sign that things are indeed on the up – time will tell, but here’s hoping!

Christmas getting earlier and earlier!

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I am not a Christmas ‘Scrooge’ – far from it, but I do find the fact that we seem to start with the Christmas experience earlier and earlier now just plain wrong.

20120910-204305.jpgIt is much more of a retail holiday than a religious one which I find rather sad. Consequently it is now ‘expected’ that Christmas goods appear a couple of months before the big day – but the beginning of September?

I spotted these mince pies in Morrison’s yesterday – they are already a ‘special offer’ so presumably will be even more of a deal in December!

I am sure if I raised the issue with the store they would claim that mince pies were ‘just a fruit pie’ and can be had any time of the year.

But we know differently!

Return to ‘Lubbock Days’?

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20120704-194701.jpgDon’t worry I would be surprised (well impressed actually) if you knew what a Lubbock holiday was! I discovered it this week when it was suggested in the house of Lords that we should perhaps rename ‘bank holidays’ due to the recent ‘unfortunate’ events relating to our financial institutions.

Possibly not a bad idea as I can’t imagine that the Bank Manager will regain his role as a respected pillar of society for some time (if ever). Personally I find that sad with my father having been a bank manager – of the old school!

Our Bank holidays had an earlier name apparently – They were briefly known as St Lubbock Days in reference to Sir John Lubbock, the Liberal MP who introduced the Bank Holidays Act in 1871.

Lord McColl of Dulwich told peers this week that they should revert to their original name;

“In view of the poor behaviour of the banks, could we consider changing the name bank holiday back to its original name – Lubbock days?”

Prior to 1834, the Bank of England observed about 30 saints’ days and religious festivals as holidays but in 1834 this was reduced to just four. The 1871 Act specified the four days to be regarded as bank holidays – in addition to separate public holidays such as Christmas Day and Good Friday. There are currently six permanent bank holidays, (with an extra one in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee).

I think we should do it! The banks really don’t deserve the kudos of having holidays named after them – time for the Lords to flex their muscles!

Black Friday – a good US import?

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Yesterday was ‘Black Friday’ in the USA – it sounds bad but is actually a good thing from a retail point of view! Thursday was Thanksgiving for Americans – possibly a bigger ‘holiday’ than Christmas to the average American, and a time when most US families try to get together – a good thing.

For years now US retailers have made the day following Thanksgiving a special day for shoppers, they have a one day pre-Christmas sale. I have to be honest that I have no idea why it’s called Black Friday (the black bit – not the Friday), but it is a great way to kick off the Christmas purchasing conveyor.

The concept is now starting to shuffle its way into the UK – large companies like Apple and Amazon are offering similar deals in the UK on Black Friday as they offer in the US. For example around 10% off many Apple items – so a 32GB iPad for the normal price of a 16GB unit – you get the idea.

Some smaller on-line companies have also caught onto this – possibly because they deal in the USA as well as Europe, but I would like to think that they realise that everyone likes a bargain, but that any sale, even one at a reduced margin has to be good.

The January Sales concept is rather ‘tired’ in my view. People are slowly catching onto the fact that much of what our retailers offer in the January events is specially produced or brought in for that purpose – so is not actually a bargain!

A late November dose of ‘retail therapy’ might also kick-start Christmas for UK retailers – I believe it does have this effect in the US. So how about it, should we adopt Black Friday in the UK?

Getting back to some real values?

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I wouldn’t claim to be the most religious of people, but it does annoy me that the retailers have ‘high-jacked’ most of our large (religious) festivals. Let’s face it Christmas and Easter are big earners for our retailers and we do seem to lose sight of quite what we are celebrating at these times of the year.

So I think it is great that church leaders have secured a small victory after major supermarkets agreed to stock the UK’s first and only Fairtrade charity Easter egg to mention Jesus on the box. Morrisons, Waitrose and Co-op are to stock a limited supply of the Real Easter Egg, while some independent shops and cathedrals are also selling it.

Unfortunately this year the Christian-themed eggs will not be found in the aisles of Britain’s three biggest supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda – which have a combined market share of just over 63%, but we can hope that this years start is the ‘thin end of the wedge’ in terms of sales.

The Meaningful Chocolate Company says it developed the product with the help of bishops, schools and parents. Out of the 80m Easter eggs sold every year, the Real Easter Egg is the only one that explains the Christian understanding of the Easter festival on the box.

The packaging tells customers:

“Easter is all about cute bunnies, fluffy chicks and eating too much chocolate, right? Well, not quite. We happen to think it’s a bit more meaningful than that. That’s because billions of people all over the world believe that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, then rose again three days later … on Easter Sunday. Actually, many believe that chocolate eggs represent the boulder that sealed his tomb.”

The company has received more than 70,000 orders since the egg was launched in September 2010 and says it has exhausted its supplies of direct mail order eggs.

Two charities benefit from the sale of the £3.99 egg. Traidcraft Exchange receives 30p from every egg sold and Baby Lifeline will receive 10% of the Real Easter Egg net profits.

As I said, I am not a ‘Bible basher’ but I do approve of this and wish it well in our overly consumer lead world.