Amazon.com cheats when it skips sales taxPublished 9:07am Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Column: Notes from Home
A couple of months ago I ended a long-standing relationship with someone I had learned to appreciate. Breaking up wasn’t easy. I still miss what we had together. But there came a time when I could no longer overlook a huge character flaw: Greed.
I dropped Amazon.com from my list of trusted vendors because they refuse to play fair when it comes to collecting and paying sales taxes.
It’s beyond just keeping quiet as Amazon.com sidesteps sales taxes. Because state governments – strapped for revenue and facing huge budget deficits – have changed laws and tax codes, they are aggressively purging themselves of any physical presence in states like Minnesota in order to avoid having to monitor and collect sales taxes on taxable items.
It’s not as if keeping track of sales taxes is all that complicated with software in today’s economy. If they can keep track of the millions of items in their many warehouses, they should be able to tie a delivery address to the sales tax rates of any jurisdiction.
Will Amazon.com notice my absence? Probably not. I am one among millions of customers. I only spend about $500 a year (give or take a hundred or two) on books, CDs and DVDs. I’m sure they have thousands of customers who spend way more than that.
But like they say in the songs and poems — breaking up isn’t easy. I miss my Amazon.
What I miss the most is the Amazon interface; it was so easy to use, and so helpful. Not only was the visual layout (the screen real estate) an excellent design, their search engine anticipated my needs as I searched for books on art or science fiction movies. They provided comprehensive access to their products, including access to tables of contents and glimpses inside books. The clerks at Book World at the Mall are friendly, but they don’t provide that level of service. And neither does Barnes & Noble’s website, which is the other major web retailer that peddles books. In fact, to use purely technical language: BN.com sucks.
I’m sure there are plenty of readers thinking “this guy’s a fool” for cutting his ties to a money-saving seller of books (and many other things I buy, like Legos). Books are my life, after all. I read them both for work and for fun. But I see this issue through an ethical lens; it’s just plain wrong to cheat all the other businesses that do collect sales tax on purchases.
Plus, there’s more to life than getting the lowest possible price. There are more important things in my life than the pursuit of cheap books, anyway. I guess I shouldn’t presume to speak for anybody else in this.
The way I see it, the point of sale is my computer, located in a physical space: Albert Lea, Minnesota. That’s a real community, with houses and families that take up space on the ground, not on a server located in Tennessee or New Jersey. If I take delivery of a book I’ve ordered or a DVD, I do so in that same physical space.
Albert Lea resident David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. His column appears every other Tuesday.