The recent shuttering of Borders reminded us all of the huge competitive advantages that online merchants enjoy over brick-and-mortar retailers. Foremost among these advantages is the ability to exploit Quill Corporation v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992), and avoid collecting use tax on sales so as to achieve a practical 5 to 10% price advantage. Quill held that a state could require use tax collection only from a seller with a “physical presence” in the state. Michael Mazerov’s Amazon’s Arguments Against Collecting Sales Tax Do Not Withstand Scrutiny (2010) presents a complete analysis of the issues here. (An earlier version was published at 54 State Tax Notes 728 (2009).)
Mr. Mazerov carefully dissects all of the arguments against taxation using Amazon as a case study. He starts by looking at the argument that multistate tax collection would unduly burden interstate sellers. He points out that Amazon already collects tax in every state of the union but one for customers like Target. Amazon even collects value added taxes on foreign sales. Supporting U.S. states presumably would require only “the flip of a (software) switch.” Continue reading "Online Retailers’ Tax-Free Lunches"