Online Shopping Tax Debate Heats Up Once Again

Online business opportunity and other business owners who make much of their money on internet sales are once again grappling with the potential impact of proposed legislation that would grant states the authority to compel all online retailers to collect sales tax, regardless of where they are located. It’s just the latest development in an ongoing debate that has only heightened during the last few years.

Having been repackaged to address some of the most pressing concerns voiced during the last round of proposed legislation on the issue, the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013—dubbed the “Amazon Tax” in homage to the world’s largest online retailer—continues to draw fire from a number of organizations. eBay, a number of select non-profits and political action groups, such as Americans for Tax Reform, and a number of politicians on the Hill are among them.

While any e-shopping or m-shopping business—from the largest and most successful online retailers to those for whom online retail growth is only in its infancy—will likely view this newest attempt to “level the playing field” as a huge imposition, many of them now have given in and can see the writing on the wall. In fact, Amazon now collects taxes in a number of states where it did not before, and it also supports this latest measure—as do other leading online retailers such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart, among many others.

As for the brick and mortar businesses and their surrogates who have been championing this issue for years, many of them are relieved to see that the debate is still very much alive and once again making national headlines. They feel optimistic that this latest proposal, even if it does not pass as is right away, signals that the issue is once again gaining momentum as consensus builds around the idea of sales tax parity once and for all—that it is an idea whose time has finally come.

“For far too long local retailers and small business owners have been saddled with a competitive disadvantage with online retailers—sales taxes,” said David French, the senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation (NRF), in a recent statement. “While store owners collect and remit state and local sales taxes, their digital competitors are off the hook—and benefiting because of it,” he said.

Asserting that the current sales tax loophole “hinders community-based retailers, hurts Main Street jobs and has [led] to a $24 billion loss for state and local governments,” French reiterated something that many individuals who do much of their shopping online may not know—that these taxes are actually not new. In fact, consumers are supposed to remit taxes on their online purchases to the state in which they live. However, the laws governing this issue are rarely if ever enforced, and millions of dollars in potential tax revenue goes uncollected as a result—something that many believe needs to change, especially given today’s huge state budget deficits and technological advancements.

“Today, keeping track of a few thousand local tax rates is no longer an insurmountable technical, administrative or financial burden,” according to, a website devoted to educating and informing the public about this issue. It’s “certainly no more difficult than calculating real-time shipping,” which is now a common feature on virtually any online retailer’s website. But, it states, “a State can only enforce these laws (to collect sales tax) within its own borders unless (or until) Congress recognizes the significant advances made by ‘man and his ingenuity with machines’ (in recent years).”

The current proposed legislation not only requires states to simplify their sales tax codes and tax definitions before implementation, but it also provides online retailers with access to free software that will facilitate their compliance.

“The Marketplace Fairness Act (2013) is the bipartisan, bicameral, common-sense solution that promotes states’ rights and levels the playing field for our Main Street businesses,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. It prohibits the government from picking “marketplace winners and losers.”

We want to hear from you, our readers! Where do you stand on this issue? Should the Marketplace Fairness Act be passed into law this year? How would its passage affect your online retail growth? Have successful online retailers enjoyed an unearned advantage for too long already? Tell us what you think…