A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

11 12 13 14


General awareness of shop closing legislation

Before studying the public attitude to shop closing hours it was considered useful to enquire how far the public was aware that the closing hours that affect them personally in everyday life are not fixed and permanent but are governed by the Shop Acts. It has been shown that shopping is an activity carried on by most members of the public; it might therefore be expected, that most people would be not only able to express a view on closing hours in so far as these concerned their convenience, but also to realise that the closing hours which affect many of them are covered by Acts of Parliament. The question “Did you know (until this moment) that there were Acts of Parliament affecting the closing hours for shops?” was not framed as a mere general knowledge question, but was designed to find out if people were even generally aware of legislation that touched their daily lives.

Table 14 - Knowledge of legislation on Shop Closing Hours analysed according to sex and Occupation of Shopper

Extent of Knowledge All Shoppers
Sex Occupation All workers
Retired and Unoccupied
Distributive Workers
Knows 57 68 50 49 61 82 60
Does not know 42 31 49 50 38 17 39
No answer 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
All Shoppers (100%) 1,939 775 1,164 785 155 155 844

Quite a high percentage (42%) of the total shopping public, were unaware of the existence of shop closing legislation. This percentage was considerably higher among women than among men. At first sight this is surprising, for women are undoubtedly the most active shoppers. There are two probable explanations of this difference; firstly, although women are the most active shoppers, the majority of them shop during the day and are not, therefore, seriously affected by shop closing, whereas men who form the bulk of the working population are frequently brought up against the fact of shop closing; later evidence tends to confirm this point. In the second place many surveys have shown that on broad issues of social and public interest men are usually better informed than women.

The broad occupational breakdown shows the same two influences at work. 50% of Housewives were unaware of the existence of shop closing legislation; workers on the other hand, though their shopping activity is smaller, are more affected by shop closing as a problem and consequently 60% of them were aware of the Shop Acts. It is moreover to be expected that distributive workers, would be best informed of all workers on this subject.

Table 15 below presents an economic analysis of public awareness of shop closing legislation. This analysis is given because past surveys have shown a close relationship between an informant’s economic group and his education.

Table 15 - Awareness of shop closing legislation analysed according to Economic Group

Extent of knowledge Up to £3.
£3. - £4.
£4. - £5.10.
£5. 10. - £10.
Over £10.
No answer
Knows 38 49 56 70 86 -
Does not know 60 50 43 29 10 -
No answer 2 1 1 1 4 -
All shoppers (100%) 242 372 772 424 104 25

The picture presented is very striking one. In the lowest economic group the majority were not aware of the existence of shop closing legislation; the proportions gradually alter until in the highest economic group the vast majority were informed on the subject.

In view of the close association between economic status and education, it may be taken that the difference shown above also reflect the educational background of the informant. People in the higher economic groups include a majority with a better educational background than others and such people might be expected to have a fuller knowledge of issues of public interest.

Present day closing times

The public attitude to shop closing hours, the closing times preferred , depends on the times that shops actually shut. People are not in day to day life primarily concerned with legal or statutory closing hours. In table 35 shoppers were asked “What is the usual closing hour?” for different types of centre; their answers inevitably applied to the times that shops actually shut on their neighbourhood and not to any statutory hour. Since the survey was carried out in August the information applies strictly to summer conditions; winter closing hours are likely to be somewhat earlier.

The answers are given in terms of percentages over the actual number of shoppers who use these centres, since it is only in the way that those who ‘did not know’ can be viewed in their true proportion.

Table 16 - Usual Closing Hour of different types of Centres

Closing Type of Centre
4.45 p.m. or earlier - - 4 -
4.46 - 5.15 p.m. 10 9 11 6
5.16 - 5.45 p.m. 28 37 27 25
5.46 - 6.15 p.m. 35 38 40 34
6.16 - 6.45 p.m. 7 3 3 3
6.46 - 7.15 p.m. 4 1 - 1
After 7.15 p.m. 4 - - -
Don’t know 12 12 15 31
Total users of this type of centre (100) 1,188 1,550 395 461

It is an interesting fact that most shoppers seem well acquainted with usual closing hours in their shopping centres. Only in the case of additional shopping centres which are infrequently visited is the percentage not knowing at all high (31%). Closing times given do not seem to differ much as between types of centre. The median estimate for closing times is around 5.45 p.m.; the third quartile which covers the views of 75% of users suggesting a time, is just after 6 p.m. It should be observed that although all centres seem to have the same order of closing time, the closing time of the local shopping centre was in each case the latest. This is probably caused by the fact that the small family shops in the local shopping centre manage to stay open later than the business employing an independent staff. Apparently there was few cases where a shopping centre closed after 6.15 p.m. and it is only in the case of the local shopping centre (with 15%) that such late closing becomes at all important. To all intents and purposes people assume that they cannot do much shopping after 6.15 p.m. in all but the local shopping centre. It is probably this conclusion which influences that large section of shoppers, which it will be seen later in the report, says that it needs a closing hour after 6.15 p.m.

Are the existing closing hours convenient?

In order to attach any value to preference for later closing due attention should be paid to what is thought of present conditions. This is studied on a commodity basis and shoppers were simply asked “Are existing closing hours convenient”? The judgment is, of course, a purely subjective one and refers to shop closing hours in so far as they are known to shoppers.

Table 17 - Convenience of existing closing hours of shops selling different types of commodities

Commodity Convenience of existing closing hours Total Shoppers(100%)
Don’t Know
No Answer
Food 80 16 1 3 1,344
Clothes etc. 75 21 2 2 1,800
Furniture 77 19 1 3 663
Ironmongery etc. 78 18 1 3 1,418
Books and Stationery 80 16 1 3 1,423

In general about 80% of the total shopping public find existing closing hours convenient. Attitudes to the convenience of closing hours for particular commodities did not vary greatly. It should be remembered that the minority, between 16-21% according to the commodity, who regard individual closing hours as inconvenient may in fact turn out to be a slightly higher figure once allowance has been made for overlap between commodities.

Table 18 - Convenience of existing closing hours of shops selling different types of commodities analysed according to Occupation of Shopper

Commodity Occupation of shopper Convenience of existing closing hours Total Shoppers(100%)
Don’t Know
No Answer
Food Housewives 87 9 2 2 778
Retired and Unoccupied 96 3 - 1 107
All Distributive Workers 73 20 1 6 81
All Other Workers 62 33 2 3 378
Clothing, Drapery Housewives 84 12 2 2 771
Retired and Unoccupied 94 5 - 1 111
All Distributive Workers 73 22 1 4 149
All Other Workers 64 32 2 2 769

This analysis clearly shows which groups are most satisfied and which dissatisfied with existing closing hours.

Housewives, who at the most have some part-time work to consider, were not seriously apprehensive about closing hours, 84-89% were satisfied with existing conditions. The retired and unoccupied who have very few working commitments and therefore presumably all day to shop as well as fewer shopping needs, had a very high percentages of satisfaction (96%). Workers, however, to whom shopping is an activity that must be fitted into the rest of the day's routine were considerably less happy and as many as 33% found existing closing hours inconvenient.

Present shopping times and the convenience of closing hours

Table 19 groups shoppers' attitudes to existing closing hours according to the times at which shopping was done. Experience in the clothing group is taken as a typical example.

It was anticipated that persons who found existing closing hours inconvenient were likely to include large numbers who shopped at inconvenient hours. The results show that this is so, confirming that informants' attitudes to closing hours are based on real needs.

Table 19 - Convenience of existing closing hours analysed according to present shopping times

Type of Commodity Convenience of Closing Hours Time of shopping
Before 12 morning
12. 1-2 Lunch
2. 1-5 Afternoon
5.1 -7 Evening
Shopping time varies
No Answer
Clothing, Drapery Convenient 88 56 73 59 79
Inconvenient 10 37 24 40 15
Don’t know
No answer 2 7 3 1 6
Total Shoppers (10%) 220 79 843 81 569 8

Clearly shoppers' attitudes to the convenience of closing hours above are influenced by the time that they called at shops. There are very few morning shoppers who would be affected by shop closing legislation and thus very few of them find shop closing hours inconvenient. The case is different with lunch hour shoppers; lunch hour shopping is bound in the nature of things to be a hurried undertaking and [Text missing] if they could. Thus the percentage of lunch hour shoppers who find existing closing hours inconvenient is significantly higher than the average for clothing purchases. A warning is necessary here, the high proportion of distributive workers among lunch hour shoppers is bound to bias that group somewhat against expressing a strong opinion on the closing hours slightly more convenient than lunch hour shoppers. However, among the relatively small number of evening shoppers, that dissatisfaction with existing closing hours is greatest; percentages as high as 40% and over are noted, who find existing closing hours inconvenient. Evidently the many evening shoppers find that there is not enough time to do their shopping thoroughly in the short available period after 5 p.m.- later closing would undoubtedly help them.

The times at which people finish work

Evidence so far collected suggests that the working population has not much time available for shopping in the late afternoon or evening. The finished work time is an important factor. To confirm this point the entire sample was asked at what time work finished on a weekday. Shift workers recorded the time they finished work on the particular day the interview took place and as there was no interviewing at night it follows that night shift working is underestimated in this table. Night workers, however, probably do not have serious shopping problems.

Table 20 - Times that people usually finish work on weekdays

Time of finishing work All shoppers
4.45 p.m. or earlier 6
4.46 - 5.15 p.m 9
5.16 - 5.45 p.m 15
5.46 - 6.15 p.m 10
6.16 - 6.45 p.m. 2
6.46 - 7.15 p.m 2
7.16 - 7.45 p.m 1
7.46 - 8.15 p.m -
7.46 - 8.15 p.m 4
No answer 2
+ Not working 49
Total sample (100%) 2007

+ The figure is mainly made up of full time housewives and retired and unoccupied persons.

About 20% of the total population finish work after 5.45 p.m. Since most shops close around that time, a large group of people cannot shop on their way home from work. It follows that many workers with shopping commitments must either meet them in the lunch hour or on Saturday afternoons. About 30% of the population finish work some time before 5.45 p.m. Some of these workers no doubt manage to fit their shopping in comfortably after work, but for a section of those finishing work before 5.45 p.m. - the interval between leaving work and shop closing is too small to be of much use for shopping. In general the hours at which informants finish work does not allow of much evening shopping. For this reason existing evening closing hours may be too early for many workers and therefore inconvenient.


57% of all shoppers know that there were Acts of Parliament affecting the closing hour for shops. Among the workers, many of whom were affected by shop closing problems, the percentage who knew of Shop Acts was somewhat higher. At the time of the survey most shops shut around 6 p.m. Existing closing hours suited about 75% of shoppers, but left another 20% inconvenienced. Shoppers, who found existing closing hours particularly inconvenient, were working shoppers; at least one third of these found that this was the case. That existing shop closing hours were inconvenient for some workers was also apparent from the fact that many workers finished work shortly before or even after most shops had shut. They had little or no opportunity for evening shopping.

We use cookies to track usage and preferences.

Privacy & Cookie Policy Accept & Close