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Taking Stock #32: Have things started to go wrong at Amazon?

by Sean Fleming

Things aren’t going brilliantly well for Amazon. It used to be so in control of every aspect of its public image and seemed to have the media under some kind of spell for so long.

Parcel delivery by drone into high-population density areas was an idea shot down by experts and people with a clue about the world almost immediately, for example. Yet there was a time a few years ago when it was hard to avoid a story about the future of parcel delivery being all about quad-copters.

For the most part, it was errant nonsense. But Amazon had said something and the press sat back lapping it up. It was easy copy. Easier than asking questions, anyway. There was even the giant flying warehouse patent story, which claimed Amazon was developing a giant flying warehouse to hover over towns and cities.

Oh, come on. That’s just silly.

There are less ridiculous stories too. Like the one that claims Amazon will buy so many freight planes that it can compete head-to-head with UPS, FedEx and DHL. And again, several loyal media outlets were on hand to write this stuff up without stopping to question it.

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But has the wind that has for so long favoured Amazon’s every move finally changed direction? It seems that way – people are standing up to the jungly giant and are prepared to say less-than-positive things about it.

If you build it, cash will come

In February it scrapped plans to build a lavish new headquarters and campus in New York’s Long Island. It was a decision that caused a real stink at the time, involving accusations that Amazon had acted like a petulant child.

There were, reportedly, $3 billion of incentives on the table for the Long Island deal. That prompted a degree of antipathy from those who felt one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations shouldn’t be receiving public handouts. But there were allegations of an inflexible attitude, particularly in regard to workers’ rights which led some local politicians – including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – to push back.

HQ2


Now Amazon’s other key site in Virginia is attracting similar levels of less-than-enthusiastic attention. If you head south of New York for around 230 miles (370 km) you’ll come to Arlington, Virginia. It’s the home of the Pentagon (the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense) and the US National Military Cemetary. It’s also where Amazon is to build a new headquarters.

The spot was chosen during the same process that led to Long Island being selected. Not surprisingly then, the decision to build there has meant Amazon is entitled to a package of incentives from the local authority. In this case, just under $1 billion, apparently, made up of various sums from different arms of the local government. And that’s more than enough to get some of the locals really quite upset.

This town ain’t big enough for the both of us

It’s not just the handing over of public money to an already successful business, but the implications of having Amazon as a neighbour that’s the problem. It might seem counterintuitive, but when a corporate giant lands on your doorstep and creates a large number of jobs, it’s not always great news for the community.

An influx of people creates a shortage of available housing and when demand outruns supply prices go up. That can mean that regular people in the neighbourhood can’t afford to move their way up the housing chain. It can increase rents on commercial property too, meaning many local businesses close down.

And then there’s the divorce. Mr & Mrs Bezos are going their separate ways and there’s no reason to think MacKenzie Bezos won’t end up with half of Jeff’s stake in Amazon. Will that lead to changes? Who knows? It’s a little unseemly to dwell upon such issues. But the reality is that we are all just people and even Jeff will be finding his high profile divorce hard-going and a distraction.

It’s difficult to argue that we are seeing the beginning of the end for Amazon. But maybe, just maybe, this is the end of the beginning. Things have gone pretty well for Amazon, to say the very least, since it came into being in 1994. But all good things come to an end. Apple is currently riding high, but around the time Amazon was just starting to find its feet it looked like Apple might collapse. Then Steve Jobs returned and everything worked out just fine. Amazon is big enough to ride out just about any storm now but that doesn’t mean it will continue to flourish no matter what.

The next few years could be very interesting indeed.

 

#Amazon, #Taking Stock

    
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