As Multichannel Merchant magazine has reported, the Marketplace and Internet Tax Freedom Act, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate on July 15 by Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Pryor (D-AR), if passed, would keep the Internet free of across-the-board sales taxation for 10 years, while giving states the ability to enforce their sales tax laws on businesses selling to consumers located within their borders. Currently, based on the 1994 Quill decision, Web purchases are taxable only in states where the merchant has a "nexus," i.e. a store, warehouse, or other physical facility.
There are three salient issues here:
1) From the point of view of the consumer, if they are active direct purchasers now (via their computer, tablet, catalog, or phone), they may notice higher purchase prices on many items because the Nexus requirement will be eliminated. I doubt that this will depress sales much, however, since the convenience of direct sales will not be hurt by this. If you live in a state that collects sales taxes, it will eventually bring price parity to the marketplace.
2) From the merchant's point of view, this will place an even greater premium on free shipping than exists already, in those states with sales taxes (and likely in all states).
3) From a systems perspective, the imposition of sales taxes on items shipped to virtually every state will mean that third-party sales tax management solutions will become even more popular (or necessary). Keeping track of all the rules and regulations is not something that any OMS vendor is going to willingly embrace, while the third-party sales tax collection services obviously excel at this. Since these packages are typically rather expensive (mid-five-figures), we may see more entries into this niche, which will give merchants more choice and potentially lower the pricing on them.
Overall, though, it will make direct sales more expensive, and shift the complexity from keeping track of nexus for each merchant to keeping track of tax rules in each of the 44 states that collect sales taxes.
Ultimately, a universal direct sales tax, by being simpler, would reduce overall costs, level-the-playing field, and most likely result in higher direct sales revenues across the board. Like many compromises, the proposed legislation just kicks the can down the road.
Ernie Schell is Director of consultancy Marketing Systems Analysis. He has over twenty years experience consulting with direct marketing, eCommerce, and fulfillment companies in specifying, selecting, and implementing order entry, fulfillment and eCommerce systems.
Ernie was Editor of Target Marketing from 1981 to 1983. Since founding his own consulting firm, he has contributed hundreds of articles and reviews to Catalog Age, Operations and Fulfillment, Target Marketing, Catalog Success, and Multichannel Merchant magazines. He is a regular speaker at the National Conference on Operations & Fulfillment, and makes presentations at numerous other business and marketing conferences in the US and the UK.