41% of Israelis Shop on Shabbat, Survey Finds

If they opened all of Israel’s stores and restaurants on Saturday, would anyone come?

According to a survey released yesterday by market research firm Geocartography, the answer is that about 41% would. They’re a minority but they’re big spenders, and businesses open on Shabbat would enjoy a big increase in turnover.

The Geocartography survey found that 59% of Israelis polled said they don’t shop on Shabbat. Among the rest who said they do, 22% said they made purchases at least once a month, 14% at least once every six months and 5% less often than that.

Among Tel Aviv residents – whose city is now the focus of a struggle over Shabbat openings – the percentage who said they shop on Shabbat was lower: 65% said they don’t shop at all on Saturday, while 11% said they did at least once a month, 15% once every six months and 9% less than that.

The poll comes a day after the cabinet approved restoring the powers of the interior minister to decide on the issue. That decision marks the latest twist in a years-long struggle sparked by the Tel Aviv Municipality’s approving a plan in 2014 formally allowing some businesses to operate on Shabbat. Many have been doing it in violation of the law.

Advocates of Shabbat openings are concerned that the cabinet’s move will spell the end of the Tel Aviv’s initiative, because Arye Dery – the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party – now heads the Interior Ministry.

The Geocartography survey said that even if a minority of Israelis does any shopping on Shabbat, the average turnover for businesses that are open on Saturday is 50% higher than the average for a weekday – and in some cases as much as 250% higher.

“Opening on Shabbat creates a lot of added value for stores,” said Dr. Rina Dagani, head of research and a principal at Geocartography.

“Without being able to open on Shabbat, many shopping centers aren’t commercially viable and can’t survive over the long term. … The decision about allowing commerce on Shabbat in Israel generally, and Tel Aviv in particular, needs to relate to a rational cost-benefit analysis,” she said.

Right now, only several-score of Israel’s approximately 350 malls and shopping centers are open on Shabbat, a much lower rate than the 22% of Israelis who said they shop on Shabbat at least once a month, she noted.

Dagani speculated that the reason spending on Shabbat was so much higher than on weekdays is because Israelis work long hours and don’t have that much time to make purchases during the week.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Israelis aged 25-54 with full-time jobs worked an average of 44.8 hours a week (or more than nine hours a day). That compares with 39.2 hours in the Netherlands, 40.3 hours in France and 40.9 hours in Germany.

“The minute they approve opening or closing groceries in Tel Aviv, it’s only a matter of time that it will spread to other parts of the country and other business,” Dagani said.