The 24-hour society is upon us, say the pundits, markets are global and customer satisfaction round-the-clock is the key to success. Changing work patterns are reflected by changes in leisure time, and 'open 24 hours' signs have become a common sight in every busy street. But is there really money to be made in the dead of night, or is the scramble to be open all hours just another marketing gimmick?
'All-night opening started as a toe in the water exercise but now, more and more companies are doing it,' says Ann Grain, director of external affairs at the British Retail Consortium. This is particularly true in the grocery sector. Supermarkets staffed all night for deliveries and shelf-stacking find that the extra cost of opening the doors and manning a few tills is modest. 'Most of the overheads are there whether the store is open or not,' says Grain.
Since opening its first all-night store in Islington, north London, supermarket chain J Sainsbury has seen steady growth in business and now has 66 stores trading overnight for at least part of the week. 'We are responding to a definite customer demand and the cost of staying open is low,' says Nigel Wade, senior manager for retail support. None the less, stores that don't perform well are quickly returned to regular trading hours. So how do they know which stores will earn their keep at night? 'In urban areas where people have more cosmopolitan lifestyles, 24-hour opening works particularly well,' he says. Friday is the big night for late shoppers, suggesting that either a vibrant social life is less appealing to some than getting in a good stock of groceries or 24-hour trading provides a spontaneous night out for singles.