Communities secretary Robert Jenrick told councils to take a light-touch approach to planning restrictions to allow extended hours during the festive period.
Under planning laws, councils typically restrict opening hours to 9am to 7pm Monday to Saturday, and obtaining a relaxation is a lengthy process which can take weeks to complete.
To make it easier for shops to stay open longer in the crucial run-up to Christmas, Mr Jenrick is telling all planning authorities in England to take a “positive approach” to any requests and relax restrictions wherever possible.
“None of us entirely enjoy navigating the crowds, especially now when social distancing is so important for controlling the pandemic," said the local government secretary.
"So with these changes your local shops can open longer, ensuring more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport.
“How long will be a choice for shopkeepers and at the discretion of the council. Councils should offer these hard pressed entrepreneurs and businesses the greatest possible flexibility this festive season.”
Mr Jenrick said the temporary relaxation of rules would apply "this Christmas and through January", adding: “In a year when government has necessarily interjected into our lives in ways none of us who value individual liberty would ever have imagined, these changes remind us that we can and must seek every way to reduce the burden of bureaucracy and free our small businesspeople to get on with earning a living and serving the public”.
It comes after a string of shop closures and job losses throughout the retail industry during the pandemic.
Earlier this month the clothing businesses Peacocks, Jaeger and Edinburgh Woollen Mill all went into administration, and on Friday it was reported the Arcadia retail group, which owns brands including Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Burton, was on the brink of collapse.
The Centre for Retail Research, which describes the pandemic as "a hammer blow against the sector", has logged over 15,000 store closures and 140,000 job losses so far in 2020. It predicts those figures will rise to 20,620 store closures and 235,704 job losses by the end of the year.
Smaller businesses have been particularly affected - after the last lockdown, one in five independent retailers did not reopen.
Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: "With just over three weeks until Christmas, shoppers will welcome the additional opportunities to shop that the government’s statement supports.
"Such measures will give more flexibility for shoppers about when and how they shop and we’d encourage everyone to avoid peak times where possible, not leave it all to the last minute and follow all the safety guidelines."