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​Poland now shuts shops on Sundays but forgets how tech can get round law

Sunday closing to help smaller retailers just points to more tech innovation for shops that want to stay open.

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A new law means that physical retailers in Poland have to close on Sundays. But, due to a large number of exceptions and a lack of definitions, it just might spark new business opportunities for the tech-savvy.

Starting this March, shops in Poland will only be allowed to trade on two Sundays a month. Next year, only one Sunday will be designated a 'shopping Sunday'. From 2020 onwards, every business will need to keep its doors shut on Sundays.

Well, except for gas stations. And post offices. And bakeries. And small shops manned by their owners. And internet retailers. And 27 other exceptions added to the bill, which is not only meant to guarantee workers a free Sunday to spend with their families, but also to give small family businesses a small edge over large, mostly foreign-owned corporations.

Retailers that face the full brunt of the new law are thinking hard how to minimize the impact it could have on their revenue. As often in these cases, technology-driven models are among the first to be considered.

One prominent idea is to turn shops into 'showrooms' on Sundays, possible because the bill specifically bans 'commercial activity', but not 'labor'.

The idea is to only post security staff, and let customers do the actual buying online, CEO Grzegorz Lipnicki of fashion chain Top Secret tells ZDNet. "In the market, we hear that other chains are also considering this possibility," he says.

Lipnicki adds that the showroom and order online model, which has some similarities with Amazon's Go concept of checkout-less stores, is one of a number of variants Top Secret is mulling "to increase sales".

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Mariusz Wozniakowski, a marketing scientist at the University of Lodz, thinks that such e-tailing spins absolutely have a chance of success.

"Especially the business that comes in first will benefit from shopper curiosity," he says. But he adds that it does depend on the wares they sell and the location of the shops.

For an e-tailer showroom concept to succeed on Sundays, the brick-and-mortar location needs to be in a shopping center that offers secondary entertainment, for example.

He points out that it will still be a minority of chains that will opt for the e-tailing showroom idea, and that on their own they will have a hard time to get shopping malls to open their doors specifically for them.

"Malls have to weigh if they want to open on Sundays or not. Usually, a large mall with a cinema still attracts visitors even if most of the shops are closed. But smaller malls in towns that only offer a food court will not."

A number of larger malls have already declared they will open their doors on Sundays.

But there is one huge caveat to all of this: the government response. The administration has already warned that it will take a tough stance against traders that try to circumvent the law.

Minister Elzbieta Rafalska has already announced that a corrective bill is on the table if "the need arises".

However, the University of Lodz's Wozniakowski points out that the current bill is "leaky" by design due to the large number of exceptions. The bill is also vague, which is a recurring problem in Polish legislation.

"Take, for example, the provision that allows shops at train stations to stay open to accommodate travelers. Will those shops be required to post someone at the door to check if someone has a train ticket?"

The bill is causing much disagreement among legal experts, who can't agree on whether it allows for the showroom model.

"Businesses are not actively looking to circumvent the law. I don't think any company wants to confront the government on this head on. So it will be a number of years before a true Amazon Go-style model will surface. But retailers are naturally looking to maximize their revenues," Wozniakowski says.

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Polish retailers that face the full brunt of the new law are considering technology-driven models.

Image: Pavlo Vakhrushev, Getty Images/iStockphoto

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