Consumers want to shop for longer

A NEW consumer survey released by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry has added further weight to arguments in favour of deregulating the State’s retail trading hours.

It comes after the Gallop Government has been forced to review Western Australia’s retail trading hours as a condition of the $72 million in Federal funding it receives under a National Competition Council policy.

The funding is provided to all States that comply with the NCC’s National Competition Policy. According to the NCC, WA is not complying with respect to retail trading, liquor licensing and potato marketing.

Conducted by ACNielsen on behalf of the CCI, the survey into the deregulation of retail hours shows that 55 per cent of interviewees are in favour of full deregulation, 73 per cent of people favour stores opening until 9pm Monday to Friday, and two out of three people support Sunday trading.

The dissenting view is typically voiced by small business operators, who say they risk closure due to an inability to compete with the market power of large retail giants.

“This is unusual kite flying where big business that nobody trusts is given more power to do nasty things to small business,” WA Retailers’ Association chief executive officer Martin Dempsey said.

“I am in constant contact with the commercial leasing world and small business is where they get their cream. They get screwed by the anchor tenant.

“Newsagents aren’t performing that well any more, and pharmacies cannot disclose earnings to centre management. It’s the specialty stores that lose out.

“Small business cannot afford the penalty rates. The bottom line is, if there are more hours, more small businesses will be out of business.”

But according to Retail Traders Association director Brian Reynolds, current retail laws are discriminatory and inhibit competition and growth. The debate, he said, should focus on freedom of choice.

 “It has been characterised as a big business/small business issue but it is not about that. It is about freedom of choice, about all retailers having the choice to service their customers,” Mr Reynolds said.

“Small businesses have been given that ability to provide choice and now that they have that they do not want to let others have the same freedom.

“The same arguments existed when the government extended Saturday trading from 1pm to 5pm.”

According to CCI chief executive Lyndon Rowe, the recent survey results strengthened the argument for deregulation and can’t be ignored.

“The case for the status quo has been terribly overstated by those opposed to change, and the idea they will go to the wall the minute other traders are allowed the same freedoms does not hold water,” Mr Rowe said.

“It is selling a lot of smaller traders short to assume they would not be up to the competition in the marketplace.

“In any event, it will be the customers who decide market share. They will go wherever the service, the product, the price, and the location serve them best.”

He said the debate was about more than just supermarkets and expected the level of retail activity in other sectors to increase with deregulation.

“You only have to see the business being done outside traditional hours by exempted traders in all sectors of retail to see that shopping patterns have altered and people need and want less restrictions,” Mr Rowe said.

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