The stunning news that Amazon has abandoned its effort to locate one of two new headquarters in New York City has been met with derision by some and joy by others. The former can’t believe any city would turn down the future jobs and tax revenue represented by the new HQ. The latter can’t believe that the world’s richest man deserves a single public dollar in incentives and subsidies. For a company that has pretty much had its way in reshaping American business, Amazon seemed blind-sided by the opposition that drove them away with the Queens equivalent of a Bronx Cheer. One irony, among many, is that every person celebrating Amazon’s retreat is probably an Amazon customer.
Amazon is a company built on data, but in all its data gathering on possible new locations, we wonder if it didn’t have a blind spot on how local communities might react. When Amazon chose Queens, did they have any idea that residents there might worry about the strain on public transportation or housing? Did they understand how a relatively heavily-unionized community might feel about a non-union company? Did they assume Queens residents would perceive Jeff Bezos an American, up-from-his-bootstraps success story, rather than as a rapacious, entitled tech overlord?
Amazon spent more than a year researching locations. Part of that process—especially when it narrowed its list of finalists—should have included extensive research among on-the-ground stakeholders. Focus groups, surveys, or town halls among residents, community leaders, non-profit groups and other influencers could have surfaced many issues ahead of any announcement. How might the Queens community have reacted if, when selecting it, Amazon simultaneously announced plans to invest $10 million a year for 10 years in local initiatives? We’ll never know.
This is a good lesson for any business, even when the stakes are considerably lower. We often see that clients can have blind spots, assuming they know how stakeholders will feel about an action. If you are making a decision that will impact both you and your stakeholders, however, you will always be better off gathering as much intelligence as you can. A little market research can make the difference between open arms and slammed doors.