Daylight Losing Time: How Changing The Clocks Hurts Retail

When Daylight Saving Time (DST) starts and ends, most Americans lose or gain an hour of sleep — and while this can lead to some cranky mornings, people soon adjust and go on with their lives, nothing lost or gained.

However, the stakes can be much higher for retailers, as the length of a day can have a dramatic impact on how much (or how little) foot traffic they get.

When the clocks turn back, so do store profits, Vogue reported last fall. This claim originated from multiple studies as various states across the U.S. started to reconsider their participation in the DST practice.

Florida lawmakers just approved a bill to do away with the “falling back” portion of DST come November. The so-called “Sunshine Protection Act” still has to get approved by Governor Rick Scott and by Congress, so it’s not a done deal yet, but if it passes, then Florida will join only two other states in the country in doing so — Hawaii and parts of Arizona.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, a state government commission also submitted a proposal to keep DST year-round after learning that leaving the clocks alone would positively impact consumer spending.

The Case Against DST

The logic behind Massachusetts’ commission report, and the reason retailers have a dog in this fight, is that customers will go shopping after work if it’s still light out — but if it’s dark when they leave the office, they’re likelier to just go home.

“Year-round DST has the potential to create economic growth in Massachusetts as people tend to shop, dine out and engage in commercial activities more in after-work daylight,” the commission found, according to its report placed on file with the Senate in Nov. 2017.

“Year-round DST could also increase the state’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining a talented workforce by mitigating the negative effects of Massachusetts’ dark winters and improving quality-of-life,” the report said.

Massachusetts’ findings are consistent with a 2016 study by the JPMorgan Chase & Co. Institute, which demonstrated that overall spending dropped 3.5 percent across Los Angeles the month after the fall time change. The institute found similar results in San Diego and Denver.

During the study, grocery stores saw traffic lag 5.9 percent, while retail stores overall suffered a 4.8 percent drop. These locations lend themselves to impulse buys, but customers are more likely to browse the racks or make a quick ice cream run if it’s light out than if it’s dark and cold.

As Vogue shrewdly observed, it’s hard to inspire impulse buys when all anyone wants to do is tuck into bed and watch Netflix.

Arguments Pile Up

There are a growing number of arguments against the “falling back” practice of Daylight Saving Time that have nothing to do with commerce. For starters, people just plain hate it. Finland is considering abolishing the practice after 70,000 people signed a petition asking to get rid of it.

The time change doesn’t just make people groggy and depressed — The New York Times and others have reported on a rise in pedestrian injuries and casualties at the hands of disoriented motorists. Work-related safety incidents also increase following the changeover.

It seems the human body itself is opposed to such an unnatural and forced shift of schedule, as studies have also shown that stroke rates increase by 8 percent in the days immediately following DST.

It’s also been shown that, despite claims stating DST was introduced to help conserve energy, the real-life savings are negligible — in fact, it may even cost more to power homes during the darker, colder months than it would if the time didn’t change.

The report from Massachusetts further noted that introducing year-round DST could help reduce street crime.

A Uniform Decision

While there are a variety of reasons — many of them valid — for doing away with the tradition of moving clocks back, actually retiring the practice for good would require a concerted effort.

The report from Massachusetts noted it would not make sense for the state to cancel the system unless the rest of New England did the same. Four out of the five other New England states are considering similar bills, so it’s possible Massachusetts could get its wish — but, cautioned the report, there could be unintended consequences if the state moves forward unilaterally.

For instance, broadcasters and scheduled television programming could suffer unless other states adopted the same year-round DST policy, noted the report.

If each state tried to make its own decision, it would recreate the exact patchwork of DST observance that prompted the U.S. to instate a standardized approach in 1966. The lack of such an approach over-complicated commerce, especially in broadcast and transportation industries.

And that was in the days before the internet. Now, with commerce taking place on a global stage, lack of uniformity could be even more problematic and create even more confusion.

Worldwide, 70 countries move their clocks forward and back. Most of Africa and Asia do not, while South America is split. Among those that observe it, start and end dates vary.

So, whatever Massachusetts and others decide, it’s certain the effects will be felt far and wide — among retailers close to home and among merchants of the most far-flung markets on Earth.

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