Sorry, Internet shoppers –– your limited world of tax-free shopping may soon be over.
The Senate opened the floor for a new round of debates on the hotly contested Marketplace Fairness Act, which would create the first national Internet sales tax.
The bill would basically level the playing field for online and bricks-and-mortar retailers, charging customers sales taxes on purchases both online and in stores (find your state’s sales tax rate here).
Small business proponents hate the bill and taxpayer advocates say it would just give state and local governments another way to dip their hands into our pockets –– to the tune of $23 billion per year.
But forget the politics for a minute. What’s a national Internet sales tax going to mean for your wallet?
From a shopper’s point of view, an Internet sales tax would be more of a nuisance than a total disaster. For the most part, lots of online retailers already charge sales tax anyway, including heavyweights like Groupon, Amazon (for 38% of customers) and BestBuy.com.
The Elephant in the room, eBay, has been lobbying hard against the new tax, but that’s mostly because of the damage it could do to small businesses that utilise the site.
“The new landscape wouldn’t really have an adverse effect on consumers in the long run,” said Odysseas Papadimitriou of Cardhub.com. “Sure, online prices might end up being a bit higher initially, but the change would also reinvigorate competition throughout the retail sector, ultimately benefiting local communities and their residents.”
And what about the biggest online shopping day of the year –– Cyber Monday?
Shoppers spent a record $1.5 billion on Cyber Monday last year, making it the heaviest online spending day in history, according to ComScore.
Electronics are among the hottest buys of the post-Thanksgiving Day weekend, and for consumers on the prowl for big ticket items like computers and televisions, we can’t help but wonder if a new sales tax might become a prohibitive factor.
Only time will tell, but most experts we spoke with downplayed the impact of a new tax.
“This will have essentially no impact on Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” Dealnews.com CEO Daniel de Grandpre told us. “Commerce is moving online for Black Friday and Cyber Monday not because of sales tax but because of the fiercely competitive pricing that happens online during the week … So many more offers are being thrown about by online and multichannel retailers during that week — and so many of the deals are significantly better than the preceding weeks — that sales tax becomes little more than noise.”
To cope, the most likely scenario is that retailers will simply start offering “free sales tax” promos to lure in customers, much like free shipping has become such a phenomenon.
The bottom online: The new Internet sales tax won’t get passed without a fight, but the battleground is mostly reserved for small business owners and the state governments that desperately need a new source of revenue. Consumers, for the time being, don’t have all that much to worry about.