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Asda, the U.K. grocery chain owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), plans to open for longer on Sundays during the London Olympics, taking the lead over competitors who aren’t convinced of the benefits of the eight-week opportunity.
Five Asda stores near the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, will open for 24 hours on eight Sundays starting July 22 after the government decided in March to lift restrictions during the period, which also includes the Paralympics. The chain’s other London outlets will open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on those days, while stores in the rest of England and Wales will stay open until 8 p.m., Asda spokeswoman Victoria Pourzand said.
Asda is the first of the four main U.K. supermarkets to say it will take advantage of relaxed Sunday opening rules during the games. U.K. laws typically restrict larger stores from opening for more than six hours. J Sainsbury Plc (SBRY), the U.K.’s third-largest supermarket chain, has said it doesn’t expect any pick-up in business other than in a small number of stores, and along with Tesco Plc (TSCO) and William Morrison Supermarkets Plc (MRW) is still considering whether to open stores for longer.
Asda’s decision will offer customers “greater flexibility in the way they shop” during the games, Pourzand said.
The number of tourists visiting the U.K. is expected to surge this summer, with about 1 million Olympic tickets being made available for overseas applicants. Marks & Spencer Group Plc Chief Executive Officer Marc Bolland has forecast the summer to be the retailer’s best ever as Britons celebrate the games.
Analysts such as Nomura’s Nick Coulter have cast doubt on the benefits of extending Sunday hours as retailers have to balance the costs of keeping stores open and additional staff expenses with potential sales increases.
Sainsbury CEO Justin King said this year that customers aren’t calling for stores to be open longer on Sundays during the games and he doesn’t believe the relaxation is “a big new story for sales.” Current Sunday restrictions are “a good British compromise,” he said, as it keeps Sunday special.
Sainsbury is liaising with the relevant authorities to ensure that customers can “shop as normal” during the Olympic period and has yet to make a decision on whether to extend hours, spokesman Tom Parker said by e-mail.
Tesco is considering how to balance the need to offer customers greater flexibility on Sundays during the Olympics with ensuring that workers have an opportunity to watch the action, spokeswoman Ruth McAllister said. The showcase men’s 100 meters final takes place on Sunday, Aug. 5.
Morrison is still considering where to extend Sunday hours and for how long, Retail Director Mark Harrison said.
Upscale chain Waitrose Ltd. has said most of its outlets will stay open for two hours longer.
“Some London-centric stores will benefit, but it’s not going to move the goalposts,” Nomura’s Coulter said. “One would think it’s just high-volume tourist destinations that will benefit. It’s designed to take advantage of London and even in London it will be very specific.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Shannon in London at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at email@example.com