The big supermarket players may be happy to compete over the price of milk, but both Coles and Woolies want an even playing field when it comes to trading hours so they can compete against online retailers.
The grocery giants have each asked for consistent trading hours across Australian states and territories in their recent submissions to theProductivity Commission inquiry, Relative Costs of Doing Business in Australia: Retail Trade Industry.
While smaller grocery retailers have also been shown to compete with the two big chains, Coles and Woolworths are still the major voices in national inquiries.
The supermarket giants both argued inconsistent trading hours and days across the states and territories, particularly varying restrictions on public holidays, have added to the cost of business and to loss of income for retailers.
They also both pointed to increasing concerns regarding their ability to compete with online retailers.
In the May 5 submission from Woolworths, government relations manager Michael Samaras said the relaxation of trading hours would benefit consumers and promote efficient and sustainable economic growth.
“Reform at this time is particularly important as the retail sector is responding to the permanent structural changes brought about by the advent of online retailing,” said Samaras.
In Coles’ submission on May 1, general manager of corporate affairs Robert Hadler said streamlining Commonwealth, state and local government regulation would significantly reduce the cost of doing business.
“A lower cost of doing business would reduce inflationary pressures and keep retail prices lower for consumers than would otherwise be the case, easing cost of living pressures,” he said.
Robert Zimmerman, Executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, told SmartCompany that while Coles and Woolworths have not explicitly mentioned unrestricted trading hours in their submissions, he believes that is what they are aiming to secure.
“The first thing we need to understand is what they want from these hours,” says Zimmerman.
Zimmerman says while the ARA supports unrestricted trading hours in principle, some caution needed to be exercised.
He says he wouldn’t want to see jobs lost as a result of changes to opening hours and says there may be further complications for smaller businesses.
“Let’s say retailers can trade when they want and as they want, and you’ve got a small independent café that finds it very difficult to make a profit when they open on a public holiday, such as the Queen’s birthday long weekend.
“I don’t think any retailer should be forced to trade when it’s unprofitable, and it does invariably become unprofitable for some small businesses.”