Boxing Day sales debated in Parliament

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Are Boxing Day Sales killing Christmas? Here in the UK the recent trend for observing the American post-Thanksgiving sales frenzy of Black Friday has received a mixed reaction from both consumers and retailers. Whilst some welcome the increased business or chance to grab a bargain, others resent the US import – and the ensuing chaos – as some shoppers shamelessly wrestle over bargains in a very unBritish manner.

Now some consumers are taking a further stand against the increasing commercialisation of the festive period. More than 230,000 people have signed an online petition calling for shops to remain closed on Boxing Day in order to respect the religious holiday and give retail employees some well-deserved family time.

The largest of several online Boxing Day petitions, started by Ian Lapworth has gained almost a quarter of a million signatures since it was launched in October. Lapworth states the case for the closure, suggesting that shops do not need to open on Boxing Day and that retail workers need some decent family time to relax and enjoy the festivities.

Despite the popularity of the petition, a spokesperson for the British Retail Consortium suggested that British businesses would continue to decide their opening hours based on customers’ needs and preferences:

“Boxing Day is a popular time to take advantage of the post-Christmas sales and retailers will respond accordingly to cater for this customer demand.”

Once a petition gathers more than 100,000 signatures in the UK it is debated in parliament – and so it was on Monday evening (12th December). The process did not involve a vote so could not enforce a change in the law; but it did allow us to ascertain how the issue is regarded, both by different parties and individual MPs.

Government wants them open

Prior to the debate, the Government released a statement suggesting that they would not propose a ban on Boxing Day opening:

“We do not believe it is for central Government to tell businesses how to run their shops or how best to serve their customers … therefore we are not proposing to ban shops from opening on Boxing Day.”

Following the debate it became clear that the majority of MPs discussing the proposed ban were in agreement with the government and were not in favour of making any changes to Boxing Day trading.

Conservative Philip Hollobone stated that enforcing a Boxing Day ban would place MPs “on the wrong side of history”. His colleague Andrea Jenkins concurred that the UK should not “bite the hand that feeds us” by dictating to retailers what they can or can’t do on what is potentially one of the busiest shopping days in the retail year.

Hollobone stressed that whilst he sympathised with employees who may only get Christmas Day off, forcing bricks-and-mortar stores to close would not necessarily help the situation, as many online stores would be receiving and fulfilling orders on Boxing Day. Whilst some critics have responded to this by suggesting that online stores should be closed on Boxing Day too, according to one source around 24% of consumers will make an online purchase on Christmas day – so where should they draw the line?

In contrast to Hollobone and Jenkins, Helen Jones, Labour MP for Warrington North was in favour of the ban, saying:

“Christmas is a family time. Retail workers work extremely hard during the Christmas run-up and only get one day.”

Jones suggested that many shops only open on Boxing Day simply because their rivals do – not because Boxing Day provides a massive boost to sales:

“I doubt very much anything would change if they did not start until the 27th,”

This appears to be a lively topic of debate on the BBC news website with over 500 comments and many agreeing with Jones – what difference would it make if the stores were closed – the bargains would still be there the next day:

“It is a little worrying that those advocating the status quo don’t seem to be able to work out that if the shops are closed on the 26th there will be exactly the same bargain available on the 27th – so everyone’s happy!”

Despite this, it looks as though – like Black Friday – the Boxing Day sales are here to stay!