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We are in unchartered territory. There have been royal weddings and jubilees of varying colours for supermarkets and suppliers to plan for, but it’s been 70 years – on the death of George VI – since the last state funeral for a monarch took place. And let’s face it, even for those few who can remember it, the world is very different. 

Over the weekend it was confirmed that the Queen’s funeral would take place on Monday 19 September, with a bank holiday declared. And for supermarkets in particular there are lots of tricky calls to make around ‘tone’.

The first is: opening hours. Over the weekend, only the John Lewis Partnership showed its cards, announcing that it would close all its 34 John Lewis department stores and the vast majority of its 321 Waitrose stores for the day, “as a mark of respect, and because we believe this is the right thing to do for our Partners and customers”, said JLP chief operating office Andrew Murphy.

That decision was hardly surprising. Waitrose holds the Royal Warrant. But it did leave open the possibility that 10 outlets on the yet-to-be-confirmed route of the funeral “may stay open to serve members of the public in attendance” for a limited period during the day, to ensure that refreshments were available, though even these shops would be closed during the funeral service itself, it added.

Since then no-one else has really broken ranks. No doubt what to do has been a live conversation in supermarket boardrooms this morning, with bosses holding their collective breaths, trying to gauge the public mood because they really won’t want to close, and waiting for someone else to go first. (There’s no official deadline to decide either.)

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But a story in The Sun this lunchtime suggests five major supermarkets – including Waitrose – are working on plans to shut their big stores for up to four hours next Monday – between the hours of 10am and 2pm. However, smaller convenience stores are expected to remain open so that the thousands gathering to watch the funeral will be able to buy refreshments en route, it adds.

Such a coordinated approach to opening hours suggests a third party is involved, but may also fall foul of competition authorities. A BRC spokesman said: “Retailers are taking their lead from government and are choosing to mark the Queen’s passing in ways they deem appropriate for their staff and customers.”

That’s the challenge for retailers. While it’s a bank holiday, they are not legally obliged to close. It’s more a question of tone, first, in terms of how this might look with the public; and second out of consideration for the millions of supermarket workers who would doubtless want to watch the funeral with their loved ones.

And that’s the other challenge for supermarkets. How will we, as the Queen’s subjects, want to pay our respects? It’s not a tragedy that the Queen has died, nor is it a shock, but the outpouring of grief over the death of our sovereign has been considerable, and five million people are expected to pay their respects to the Queen during the official period of mourning up to the funeral.

So will the nation treat next Monday’s funeral as a sombre occasion, marking it with tea and toast? Or will we want to celebrate the Queen’s long life of public service, coming together as families over tea, cakes, perhaps even champagne? 

That’s a real quandary for supermarkets, compounded only by the lack of time to prepare. Will commemorative food and drink products, in tasteful black of course, be hurried out in time for the weekend? Will there be displays with helpful, suitable suggestions?

Let’s see. But there’s no question supermarkets will want to avoid being seen as cashing in on the state funeral. As well as a near-total absence of supermarket advertising in the national newspapers (the only exception I spotted this morning was a Sainsbury’s DPS in The Sun) there’s been social media silence from supermarkets since Friday other than to express condolences and gratitude. And all the supermarkets have cancelled their Christmas range announcements (scheduled for this week).

Store radios have also been silenced, though rumours that Morrisons has turned off the beeps on its checkouts are wide of the mark. They’ve been turned down because, we understand, once the store radios were off, the beeps were really loud.

That’s not stopped some well-meaning supermarket staff from attempting to honour the Queen’s passing with their own homespun displays, however. The challenge is these can easily backfire, like the one above.

Trying to stop or manage such displays of public affection (as they might be termed) from head office isn’t going to be easy.