WITH all the information we could possibly want at our fingertips, why is that we still find it hard to find businesses? asks Robert Zarywacz.
The other week I had a number of appointments in Barnstaple and found myself searching in vain for the numbers above shops. I thought I'd been clever memorising the building number before I set out, but it was no use as few shops now display this. I marched up and down and luckily met a Journal colleague who pointed me in the right direction. Going on to my next appointment, armed with Google Maps on my iPhone, I was again reduced to wandering in circles because I couldn't find a street name. I eventually got to where I wanted to go.
Now I think I have a reasonable sense of direction and used to enjoy long drives with only the sun as a reference point, but if I can't find businesses, how do other people? It's a serious issue for businesses as they can't exist without customers.
If you've got a shop, you can put a sign up, but it's not as easy as that. There are so many signs about – street names, traffic signs, parking signs, bus stops, adverts, banners – all fighting for our attention.
If you don't have the width of a shop for a sign, it's even more of a challenge.
Putting up signs or 'A' boards is not easy as businesses have to negotiate the planning system and regulations.
In Ilfracombe there are no signs to "high street shops" as you enter the town, so some people don't know there are nearly 300 shops and restaurants there.
But it's not just visibility on the street that matters. Visibility online is just as important.
It's becoming rare to find a business that does not have a web site or a social media profile. It's the first thing I check these days.
But even online, businesses have to compete with millions of others struggling to do the same. Visibility is one of the most important issues every business needs to address, but it's something that affects us all. I'm sure we don't want vulgar neon signs blazing everywhere or gigantic hoardings blighting our towns, but it would be useful to find out where we want to go easily.
It's something that businesses and local authorities have to work on to strike the right balance. Then perhaps I'd know where I was going.