There’s a lot of ink, real and virtual, being spilled about the upcoming vote on the Internet sales tax, aka The Marketplace Fairness Act. Amazon has decided it’s okay with it, while eBay is opposing it. Whether it will save brick-and-mortar retailers is an open question. From my perspective, however, it’s something of a yawner.
For years, Californians didn’t pay sales tax on goods ordered online if the online site was out of state. One of the biggest beneficiaries was, in fact, Amazon.com. As an Amazon prime member, I’d often buy from them because of the lack of sales tax. Sure, you were supposed to pony up any unpaid sales tax at tax time, and I would make a good faith effort to do so. But even just deferring sales tax is a big benefit.
Last year, that all ended. I thought I’d be buying fewer goods from Amazon. But it hasn’t turned out that way. Why?
One reason is convenience. Sometimes its easier to go online and place an order with a few clicks. But that wasn’t the main reason. There are items I’d love to buy locally, but it’s a pain to find them. Filters for my refrigerator is a good example. Several local appliance stores supposedly carry water filters for my Samsung fridge, but more often than not, they’d be out of stock. So I just ordered a 3-pack from Amazon. Similarly, one of my favorite sodas, Blue Sky Zero cola, is ostensibly available at the local Whole Foods. But — you guessed it — they’re often out of stock. So I’ve get my fix of Blue Sky via Amazon’s subscribe and save service.
I can list lots of examples like this, ranging from tech gear to board games to lawnmower blades that I’d love to source locally. But even Google searches fail to reveal much in the way of local sources for much of the stuff I want or need. And when they do, I’ll drop in, only to find them out of stock.
As it turns out, the need for Amazon to start charging California sales tax has been a non-issue. Convenience and choice trumps having to either search out local sources or wait days or weeks for stuff to come into a local store. I suspect I’m not the only person who feels this way.
How will local stores survive? I suspect many won’t, but good ones will continue to thrive by offering services and goods that are more in line with immediate needs. My friendly local game store may not have every board game I want, but they do host board game meetups, and I’ve dropped in to play games and, on occasion, pick up a good game on impulse that I may not have had on my radar. So online won’t serve every need I have, and smart local shops will figure out how to tap into that.