M&SGareth Fuller/PA Wire

Marks & Spencer has announced that for the first time in its history, 103 of its stores will be opening at midnight on Christmas Eve. It said the move was in response to the fact that Sunday 23rd December is going to be a short shopping day, and is designed to ease the pressure on 24th.

But do we really need this, and is this the beginning of the 24 hour Christmas shop?


Opening early

Sacha Berendji, director of retail, said in a statement: "We know that the days leading up to Christmas are some of the most hectic for our customers. Due to Sunday trading rules, we can only open for six hours on one of the busiest days of the year. We hope that these early bird hours on Monday will ease the pressure and give busy shoppers a bit more time to pick up Christmas food orders or last minute presents."

Unspoken

Behind this statement are four things that Berendji isn't saying. The first is that retailers had been lobbying hard to get the government to relax Sunday trading laws on 23 December. According to Retail Week, the success of longer opening hours during the Olympics gave them optimism.

However, this hope was crushed this week, as the government made it clear that the Olympic changes were not designed to open the floodgates. This announcement is therefore partly a response to the government.

The second issue is that Christmas shopping has become a 24 hour business already, as we spend more and more of our Christmas budget in supermarkets, which stay open around the clock. The high street is coming to terms with the fact that if it wants to compete - especially for Christmas groceries - it needs to offer similar flexibility.

The third is that the high street is in a bitter battle with online shopping outlets. According to Deloitte, this Christmas 48% of people will buy their shopping online. They are leaving the high street in droves. Given that they can order online at any time of the day or night, you have to ask why they would work around restrictive hours on the high street. Shops have to open longer and find a way to fit around our lives or we will vote with our feet.

And the fifth issue is that Christmas grocery spending is falling, so the retailers are fighting over the scraps. According to moneysupermarket, we are spending less than ever on Christmas. The bill for festive food has come down from £204 in 2001 to £152 today. With less money to fight over, the retailers have to work harder.

Slippery slope?

So is this the start of a trend towards round-the-clock high streets? Clearly we can already buy the vast majority of the things we want for Christmas at any time of the day or night - because so much of the Christmas shop is done at the supermarket and online.

However, this is the next step - where the high street steps up a gear. According to the Telegraph, Waitrose will also open earlier on Christmas Eve - and over two thirds of its branches will open from 7am to 6pm.

So is this a good thing? Are you happy to have such flexibility, or is there a risk that there's no let-up in the festive spending frenzy, and no time to sit down, put our feet up and remember that Christmas isn't supposed to be entirely about shopping? let us know in the comments.



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