Amazon began collecting sales tax on items it sells in Georgia four years ago after a push from state lawmakers. Now, state leaders in Georgia and throughout the country are setting their sights on the mega-retailer again — this time, to collect taxes from the third-party merchants that sell through its site.
The extra tax dollars would be a boon to state governments, but would end up costing online shoppers more.
The third-party retailers, called marketplace sellers, use Amazon to sell, hold and ship their products. But Amazon doesn’t collect sales tax on behalf of those companies, and many of them don’t collect taxes themselves.
Arguing they are losing millions of dollars in tax revenue, states are starting to take action — even as some of them are also trying to lure Amazon’s second headquarters, HQ2, with tax incentives and other inducements.
Washington will start receiving more sales tax money in January after passing a law earlier this year requiring Amazon to collect those taxes itself on the sellers’ behalf. Massachusetts successfully sued for access to a list of sellers that have items warehoused in the state. And South Carolina sued Amazon this summer, saying the company was required to collect taxes for marketplace sellers and owed more than $12 million in taxes for just the first three months of 2016.
James Thomson — the former business head of Amazon Services, which recruits marketplace sellers — said Georgia “almost certainly” already has the legal authority to demand sellers that have at any point had items warehoused in the state pay taxes here.
“There’s this massive sales tax liability that most sellers are ignoring,” he said.
Most sellers that aren’t charging sales tax rely on Georgia consumers to report their tax-free purchases, as the law has long required, and to pay the taxes they still owe by filling out state forms. It’s called a “use” tax, but shoppers rarely fill out the forms or pay. Online retailers push back against collecting sales tax themselves partly in an effort to keep their prices competitive.
Legislation has already passed the Georgia House that would increase sales tax collections on online sales in the state if it becomes law, but it still must be passed by the Senate and approved by the governor. And Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, said he is working on additional legislation that could force Amazon to collect taxes on behalf of its third-party sellers, instead of leaving it to those sellers to collect themselves.
“If we can pass legislation requiring (Amazon) to pay, we want to do that,” said Powell, chair of the House Ways and Means committee. “They claim it’s a bookkeeping nightmare, but that’s not true.”
Who is required to charge sales tax for online sales comes down to one concept: physical presence. A 1992 Supreme Court ruling said if a company had a physical presence in a state, like a store or a warehouse, it had to charge consumers the sales taxes levied by that state. If not, there was no requirement.
But for businesses that send their goods to Amazon to ship, having their inventory stored in a state — even for a day — could be enough to require them to collect and pay sales tax there.
Powell’s proposed legislation, which passed the House this year, calls for a new taxing requirement. Instead of requiring a physical presence, he wants to create an economic presence. The bill would require tax collections for businesses that have more than 200 transactions in Georgia, or those that made more than $250,000 in sales in the state the previous year, regardless of where they are physically located.
Sellers would be required to collect the tax, or to send Georgia buyers a notice saying that they owe it and must pay.
“The market is changing,” Powell said. “The way we tax things is not.”
In order to collect any back taxes that the state argues are owed under existing law, the Georgia Department of Revenue would have to track down Amazon’s marketplace sellers that have stored inventory in the state. Thomson warned it would have to happen quickly: Sellers that haven’t paid taxes in multiple states are likely to run out of money before they’re able to pay all that they owe, he said.
That’s one reason, he said, Washington decided to forgo past sales tax collections in favor of simply requiring Amazon to collect in the future. But he said states that do go after back taxes have the opportunity to collect quite a bit.
The hit from unpaid taxes is “big enough that it warrants the Department of Revenue sending auditors,” Thomson said. “It doesn’t take long for it to be a couple hundred million dollars.”
A Georgia State University report said the state had lost an estimated $204 million in tax revenue in 2016 from all out-of-state online sellers. That number was expected to grow by 8 percent a year until 2022.
Jill Kerr, an Amazon spokeswoman, declined to comment on the issue of tax collection on the record.
Georgia retailers are in favor of changes that require all online sales to be taxed, Powell said. James Miller, a spokesman for Georgia Retailers, said his organization just wants “equity” among all sellers.
Two dozen states, in the hopes of getting sellers to voluntarily start paying sales tax, offered amnesty programs that would free them from having to pay some or all of the back taxes owed. Georgia wasn’t one of the participating states, but the number of sellers that signed up for the program, organized by the Multistate Tax Commission, was paltry — only 852 of more than 40,000 sellers that use Amazon for fulfillment of their orders.
Richard Cram, the director of that program, said he suspects more legislation will be written nationwide to force the issue.
He also said the company “probably wouldn’t be afraid” to use its headquarters search “as a way to discourage states from pressing them.” Thomson, though, doesn’t think the two are related. He said long-term growth and access to talent is more important to Amazon than the tax issue.
Stefanie Harper, at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said the department doesn’t comment on active projects and “we’re not commenting on anything related to Amazon.”
The retail apocalypse has been well documented. Major chains have had to close stores, lay people off and even go out of businesses entirely. And small retail businesses may have it even harder.
But retail businesses aren’t completely a lost causes. There are ways to make your retail business stand out and potentially save it from extinction, if you’re willing to rethink the customer experience and get a little innovative.
Brian Solis gives an overview of the top trends that retail businesses can use to survive and thrive in today’s environment. Here’s a breakdown of some of the main points.
1. Use human perspective to shape your future. Basically, you can consider trends and technology all you want. But if you want the shopping experience at your business to appeal to your customers, you need to relate to them on a human level and put yourself in their shoes. If you can come up with some common sense changes, even if those changes integrate new technology and trends, you can make the experience better for actual customers.
2. Cater to on-demand consumers. Today’s consumers want their purchases immediately and in the most convenient way possible. So retail outlets need to discover ways to get their products to customers with the fewest barriers possible.
3. Compete for customer experience. This doesn’t just mean customer service. It means the end-to-end experience that the customer has when dealing with your business. So you need to come up with ways to stand out and make the entire process as seamless as possible.
4. Become payments agnostic. Mobile payments and other high tech options have recently gained popularity with some consumers. If you can create an environment where all forms of payment are accepted, you can eliminate some potential roadblocks for customers.
5. Understand social commerce. Social commerce is mainly centered around connecting social media and shopping. And retail stores can utilize this idea to increase business by encouraging shared experiences and reviews online.
6. Invest in the trust economy. The trust economy is all about creating transparency and trust between your business and its customers. You can create genuine interactions with customers online and otherwise through content and more. And you can even utilize user generated content and reviews or referrals from other customers to create more trust.
7. Balance webrooming and showrooming. When customers come into your store to look at products, but then look for the same products cheaper online, it’s called showrooming. But when customers research products online and then go find that product in a store so they can get it right away, it’s called webrooming. Both concepts are popular with different shoppers. So your business should be prepared for customers who want to compare information or prices from both online and retail sources.
8. Blur the lines between digital and brick and mortar shopping. Because of the ways customers interact with online businesses and content, it’s important for retail stores to utilize new technology to blur the lines between retail and online shopping to make the experience as seamless as possible. This can also provide more options for customers who simply have different shopping preferences.
9. Cater to mobile customers. Many customers are turning to their mobile phones first when shopping. And some are only using their mobile devices. But technology like beacons can help you gather data and more effectively communicate with those mobile customers to create a more seamless experience for them.
10. Discover new competition and possibilities. Because of the constantly changing technology and trends out there, retail businesses need to constantly be on the look out for new possibilities and new forms of competition. There might be a new disruptive technology tool out there that competitors are using to create a better experience. And your business needs to be open to solving that problem in a new way.
11. Reimagine your space. Instead of simply adding in new technology or methods to your existing model, it might be a better route to reimagine the journey as a whole. Start from scratch and think about how to create the best customer journey from start to finish.
Are sales slowing down? Have you had a rough month, quarter or year? While a lot of people are claiming that brick and mortar is a dying business model that's quickly being replaced by e-commerce, this simply isn't true. Your lack of sales has less to do with larger industry trends than it has to do with store-specific issues. Correct these issues and you should be just fine.
Thankfully, boosting retail sales doesn't have to involve steep discounts or costly marketing campaigns. With just a few inexpensive techniques, you can give your retail business the jolt it needs to meet sales goals and bolster your bottom line.
1. Encourage impulse buys
We've all walked into a store looking for one specific item only to leave with three or four things that we didn't really need. In most cases, this behavior is rooted in impulse shopping.
"The simplest explanation is that some people just derive an enormous amount of pleasure from acquiring something new," consumer behavior psychologist Philip Graves says. "The act of buying is an act of empowerment that may be felt all too rarely in other aspects of life."
As a retailer, you can significantly increase your sales by encouraging impulse buys. The easiest way to do this is by lining up cheap, sensory items in the checkout queue. While customers are waiting, they'll naturally toss things in their shopping carts.
2. Push add-ons
Once you have a customer in the ready state of mind to purchase one product, it's much easier to encourage them to purchase more. One strategy is to have your salespeople push add-ons. These add-ons can come in the form of a discount or special sale, or they can be full-price add-ons if your salespeople are really persuasive.
For example, let's say you're selling a customer a digital camera. In addition to the camera, you could push things like camera cases, memory cards, batteries and extra lenses. Suddenly, instead of just selling a camera for $199, you're selling three or four items for $300.
3. Get people in the door
Your sales numbers are directly correlated to the level of foot traffic inside your store. It's an elementary concept, but sometimes basic logic goes out the door when you're struggling to meet sales goals. If you want to increase sales, get more people in the door.
You can use any number of strategies to get people inside, but it all goes back to grabbing your customers' attention. Try designing clever window displays, placing inventory outside, or having a personable salesperson stand outside and welcome people in. Whatever you can do to get people inside will increase your chances of driving up sales.
4. Offer future-use coupons
If you're looking for cheap ways to drive sales, you probably aren't keen on the idea of using a lot of coupons. However, there is one type of coupon – known as a future-use coupon – that has a low cost and a high return.
As the name suggests, future-use coupons are coupons you give to customers at the time of purchase that are valid for future purchases. The great thing about these coupons is that only a small percentage of people will ever redeem them. So while you may get 15 people to make a purchase because of the coupon offer, only four or five will ever take advantage of the offer at a later date. This allows you to maximize their value.
5. Let customers try
The final tip is to let customers try products. In-store demonstrations, trials and tastings are highly effective methods for driving impulse buys. Sensory exposure goes a long way toward moving customers to action. People see, hear, touch, taste or smell something that they otherwise never would have and feel like they have to purchase the item. READ MORE
NEW YORK — Three years into being a business owner, Becky Davis knew she needed to break the hold technology had on her.
Davis, a marketing and management consultant to other small business owners, was so immersed in emails, texts and social media that she was getting only four or five hours of sleep a night and her husband said he felt invisible. It also hurt her productivity — she'd get distracted reading people's posts and realize she'd lost two hours of work time.
"If you don't set some rules, guidelines and put some technology boundaries in place on using your phone, tablet or computer, they will run your life and can very well ruin your life," says Davis, who's based in Douglasville, Georgia.
Many small business owners in tech overload are putting limits on how much time they spend on ever-growing modes of communication. For some, the antidote is more technology, such as apps or programs that filter emails. Others go low-tech, simply turning their devices off. Some tell clients they're just not available to answer emails and texts at night and on weekends.
Davis now schedules time for social media posting and leaves her computer in another room at night. When she's out to dinner with her husband, she doesn't check email.
For small business owners passionate about their companies, their dedication makes it hard to say no to the email or text that arrives at 10 p.m. The tipping point for many has been the explosion of social media sites that have some owners reading hundreds of posts each day, says Patricia Greene, an entrepreneurship professor at Babson College.
"There are so many streams to manage," she says.
Overload during work hours can also be a problem, Greene says. Owners who get bogged down answering emails and social media posts rather than spending time on strategy can see their work days lengthen.
Justine Pattantyus has turned off most notifications, including email and Facebook alerts. The constant interruptions prevented her from focusing on doing work for the clients of her management consulting business.
"How much time I was losing to responding constantly to those outside influences!" says Pattantyus, owner of Spark Life International.
Pattantyus sets other limits. She lives in Lisbon, Portugal, but her clients are five to eight hours behind her in the U.S. If she has clients on Pacific time, they're in the early part of their work day as Pattantyus nears the end of hers. She shuts her computer down at 7 p.m. her time. Clients know that's the rule when they sign on with her.
Kelley Weaver's company, Melrose Public Relations, is in Santa Monica, California, but she's in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where her husband is in graduate school. Her employees start their days three hours after hers begins, raising the possibility of an extended string of texts and emails encroaching on her evening.
Weaver uses the Slack messaging system with her staff for group and individual conversations that eliminate the stop-and-start rhythm of emails and texts. She also strives to go off-duty technologically at the day's end; she silences her phone and tries not to look at it.
"When we go to dinner, I'll leave it home," Weaver says. But it's not always easy: "Part of it is second nature and breaking habits," she says.
Aaron Norris says he's slowly gotten rid of his laptop at home for work after finding he was reading emails at 5:30 a.m. and spending time in the evening sorting through emails that he estimates were 80 percent spam. Norris, a vice president at his family's Riverside, California-based real estate business, The Norris Group, has also cut back on time spent on email at work and no longer tries to read every social media channel.
"There has to be some peace or I just feel frayed by the end of the day," he says.
Josh Nolan began putting a boundary between work and personal life — his own and his staffers' — about three years after his website design company, Bold Array, was founded. He was working over 100 hours a week as he and his staff of five tried to keep up with clients' questions, requests, emails and texts.
"Things were getting a little difficult to manage," says Nolan, whose company is based in Costa Mesa, California.
His solution: Clients are told Nolan will answer emails, phone calls and have meetings between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. He'll answer texts and emails after 10 p.m. or the next day, keeping evenings clear. Weekend work is billed at a higher rate.
"Once we started setting those limits and communicating expectations, it helped with company morale and not just going insane with the amount of work," he says.
Retailers such as Dick's Sporting Goods will have specific Olympics displays in stores. Macy's, which has an exclusive partnership with Ralph Lauren to sell the opening and closing ceremony outfits, expects a surge in traffic this weekend after the athletes make their entrance in Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
"Historically, as soon as the Olympics start we see a huge lift," says Tim Baxter, Macy's chief merchandising officer. That goes for athletic apparel too, particularly in the kids department as impressionable youngsters are inspired by Olympic competitors, Baxter says. Red, white and blue options will be especially popular, he says. read more