Will Cyber Monday jump start the stalled national streamlined sales tax effort?
Monday, November 29, 2010
Today thousands of us will do our holiday shopping from our computers, clicking on websites and ordering items.
But in many cases, the states where online shoppers live are bemoaning the loss of revenue.
That's the case in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Department of Revenue estimates the state loses around $150 million each year in sales taxes it can't collect on catalog and Internet purchases from out-of-state vendors by Wisconsin consumers.
Nationwide, reports the Green Bay Press-Gazette, all states collectively lose an estimated $16 billion to $18 billion a year in unpaid sales taxes. Almost $9 billion of those losses are directly from online sales.
"Collecting online sales tax is a challenge for all states," Wisconsin Department of Revenue spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis told the newspaper.
Nationwide sales tax collection effort: Will these numbers and the growing popularity of online shopping finally be the catalyst to get the stalled Main Street Fairness Act back on track?
This bill, introduced earlier this year in both the House and Senate, would facilitate the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax initiative (SSTI).
The creation of this long-planned nationwide system would, say supporters, make it easier for all taxing jurisdictions in the United States to collect their appropriate sales taxes on products purchased from remote sellers, or what we shoppers call Internet and catalog merchants.
Maybe the growth of Cyber Monday is just what is needed for SSTI to finally become real. Then again, the timing could be a bit off.
True, this busy online shopping day gets a lot of attention. And Congress will hear about it while it's back on Capitol Hill for a lame duck session.
But during this next month of work, a lot of more pressing issues -- unemployment benefits, funding to keep federal agencies open, expiring tax cuts -- are taking precedence.
By the time the new 112th Congress convenes in January, the shopping season and its tax implications for states and localities will be ancient history.
Still, expect to see the issue of state sales tax collection from distant sellers come up again. Depending on the economy and how states are coping with their fiscal issues, it could move up on Congress' legislative to-do list next year.
Online shopping facts: The origin of the term Cyber Monday can be traced to a Nov. 21, 2005, press release from Shop.org, the trade association for online retailers, that proclaimed, "Cyber Monday" Quickly Becoming One of the Biggest Online Shopping Days of the Year.
That year, a survey conducted for the trade group found that 37 percent, or 51.7 million people, said they would log on to browse or buy gifts online.
Shop.org's 2010 survey finds that more than 106 million Americans say they will shop online this year.
In addition to the growth in online shopping, the methods of doing so have changed over the years.
In 2005, shoppers said they planned to surf for gifts from their workplace computers. Now, however, more -- 89.5 percent -- are shopping from home. A similar estimate of home-based online shoppers was found by PriceGrabber, a Los Angeles-based online retailer and comparison site.
Both Shop.org and PriceGrabber agree that the online shopping shift from work to home is likely due to more residences having access to faster Internet connections.
Even before buying, says the Pew Research Center, nearly six-in-ten adults (58 percent) report that they have gone online to do research about products they buy.
And studies also note that there's now an app for that. Millions of people say they will conduct their online shopping this year via a mobile device.
The rest of the week in shopping: Finally, don't dare think you're through after today with talk of holiday shoppers and sales data.
Websites, blogs and the mainstream media will keep parsing the sales figures and, after getting the requisite expert commentary (ususally from the same two or three folks), tell us what it all means to us personally and the economy as a whole for months to come.
To help out in that regard, Portfolio.com has some suggestions of monikers to round out the full full shopping week of the 2010 holiday season.
We started with Black Friday, followed by Small Business Saturday. The online business publication says Survival Sunday slipped in there before today's arrival of Cyber Monday.
These four days will be followed by Debt (and Debut) Tuesday, Can-Do Wednesday and Target Thursday.
Check out Portfolio's descriptions of the upcoming shopping days. And keep your shopping lists handy!
- Sales tax collection on online purchases:
legislation to ease it, lawsuit to stop it
- Sales tax collections stall
- State tax collections have improved; Wait, no they haven't
- Are Amazon taxes costing states money?
- Streamlining various state sales taxes
- State use taxes tend to be useless
- State Tax Departments
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