Morrisons is giving store managers more autonomy over store layout and ranging in a bid to improve sales.

The move marks a return to the way Morrisons operated before the acquisition of Safeway in 2004, when it centralised many functions to facilitate Safeway’s integration.

Morrisons held a meeting of its store managers two weeks ago to inform them of the changes.

Group retail director Mark Harrison said the response had been positive. “We told them, ‘you know your customers better than anyone else, so we are giving you much more of an opportunity to flex your space and range,’” he said.

They would have to work around Morrisons’ nationwide promotional strategy, he said, but giving them greater control would bring real benefits to the business. “When you have managers engaged like this it can be really special,” added Harrison.

He also revealed that two-thirds of stores would be open for longer hours in the two weeks before Christmas, compared with one third last year. The opening hours would be 7am-11pm, rather than the typical 8am-9pm, equating to an 11,500 extra hours on the same period last year.

The retailer also continues to lobby the government for longer opening hours on Sunday 23 December, and plans to open all of its stores early on that day for one hour’s browsing.

“Something like this would make an enormous difference,” said Morrisons CEO Dalton Philips. “You can’t be too puritanical on this.”