A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

1 2


The Importance of Shopping Hours to the Community

Shopping is an activity carried out by the great majority of people in this country. Over a third of the National income is spent in shops; it is a matter of some importance, therefore, that the system of distribution should conform to the needs of the population as a whole. As the acute shortage of consumer goods is overcome, shopping hours will become an even more serious consideration for the public. It is not enough for the goods to be available, it is also vital for the public to be able to buy them at reasonably convenient times to themselves. Shopping hours is an important issue to the community, even if the shortage of consumer goods is still uppermost in people’s minds. Moreover, a worker's output is likely to suffer if he has not the time to shop in the evening and has to take time off during the day. Hence shopping hours may affect the course of the production drive.

The Government is appealing to married women to stay in industry. It is quite likely that the answer to this appeal will depend upon whether the married women feels she can meet her household commitments. The ease or difficulty with which she can complete her shopping in the evening may vitally affect her decision. For all these reasons, facts on the public attitude to shopping hours were required.

The Shops Acts

Although nowadays shops often shut during the day on account of shortages, evening closing is usually the result of shop closing legislation. It is proposed, therefore, to give a simple account of the legal framework, within which the shopper must regulate his activity. Shop closing hours are governed by the Shop Act of 1928 for the period March to November and by Defence Regulation 60A(b) for the period November to March. For the summer period local authorities are free to make regulations ordering the closing of shops not earlier than 7 p.m. and not later than 8 p.m. on normal closing evenings, and not later than 9 p.m. on the weekly late closing day. During the winter period the Defence Regulation ensures that shops shut not later than 6 p.m. on normal weekdays and not later than 7.30 p.m. on the late closing night. A local authority can by order extend a closing time till 7 p.m. on a normal evening and till 8 p.m. on a late closing night.

A number of commodities known as “exemptions” are freed from the strict application of the law. During the March-November period sugar confectionery, ice-creams, mineral waters and tobacco may be bought until 9.30 p.m. on weekday closing days and until 10 p.m. on late closing days, subject to the consent of the local authority. During the period November - March the same goods may be bought up to 8 p.m. on normal and up to 9 p.m. on late closing evenings. It should be particularly noticed that the exemptions listed apply in respect of commodities only and not in respect of shops, so that shops may well remain open to sell one small item, while the bulk of their stock may not be sold. In addition the 1928 Act provides for complete exemption of newly cooked provisions and medicines from shop closing hours; it allows the purchase of tobacco in licensed premises during licensing hours and of tobacco, sweets and ice-cream in places of entertainment, while they remain open in the evenings.

Other provision worth noting here are the weekly halfday closing for shops, brought in by the 1912 shop Act and the exemption of Xmas shopping and of shopping in holiday resorts during the holiday season from the normal closing hours, embodied in the 1928 Act. Shops are free to open at any time after midnight. Lunch hour closing, in fact, is the result of shortages of labour and not onany legislation. Nowadays the reasons why shops are not open for longer periods during the day are firstly shortages of supply and secondly the limitation on staff working hours.

The object of the Survey

The object of the survey was to present the office Committee with facts on the public attitude to shopping hours. A number of main issues had facts on the public attitude to be covered:-

  1. (a) At what time were shops to shut in the evenings on weekdays?

  2. (b) Was there a need for special late closing day(s) and at what time should shops shut on such evening(s)?

  3. (c) Did consumers wish to be able to buy certain ‘exempted’ articles after normal closing hours?

  4. (d) Was there a substantial desire to be able to buy sweets and/or tobacco in licensed premises and places of entertainment after ordinary shops had shut?

  5. (e) To what extent did the shopping public favour Saturday as the general weekly half-holiday?

  6. (f) How far was there a special demand for later closing in holiday resorts during the holiday season and a need to keep shops open over the weekly half-holiday?

  7. (g) Was there a special demand for later closing over Xmas week?

It was on those topics that information was most vitally needed. The samples were chosen and questionnaires planned in order to produce valid data that would meet, and wherever possible, answer these requests.

The Home Office Committee required certain priority information in time for its October meetings in order that it could go on to frame its interim recommendations. The relevant tables were made available at the end of September and an officer of the Survey gave evidence before the Committee in October. The Social Survey was officially thanked by the Chairman of the Committee “for the very great trouble which the Survey has taken on our behalf and the valuable information which is covered.”

The Samples

(a) Main Sample

The survey was based on interviews with a representative sample of the population on aspects of shopping hours and of their shopping habits. In view of the special need to ensure that the needs of all shoppers and not merely housewives were covered by this inquiry, the sample was designed to cover the entire population of Great Britain, that is to say, England, Wales and Scotland from the age of 18 years and upward except for members of H.M. Forces. The size of the sample was 2,007. The interviews were distributed according to the known proportions of the population in different parts of the country. A special analysis of the sample with comments is given at the end of this report; it may be noted in passing that the quotas set for the sample were in fact achieved.

(b) Special Holiday Sample

It was felt that although the main sample was a shopping inquiry, it was not suitable for the specified problems of holiday shopping. To a large section of the general public, holidays, still less holidays shopping, were not a vivid experience on which people could comment, and therefore a special sample was chosen for covering this problem. Ten landladies and ten holiday makers were interviewed in each of 20 selected holidays resort. A special analysis of this sample is given at the end of the report; there is, of course, no exact information on the population of holiday resorts with which the sample data can be compared.

We use cookies to track usage and preferences.

Privacy & Cookie Policy Accept & Close