Supreme Court Lets States Force Online Retailers To Collect Sales Tax

The justices, in a 5-4 ruling against Wayfair Inc, Overstock.com Inc and Newegg Inc, overturned a 1992 Supreme Court precedent that had barred states from requiring businesses with no "physical presence" in that state, like out-of-state online retailers, to collect sales taxes.

The win was welcomed by groups representing brick-and-mortar retailers and decried by e-commerce advocates.

E-commerce sales in the fourth quarter of 2017 increased to $119 billion, up more than 3% from the previous quarter and almost 17% from a year earlier, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

That's resulted in states losing millions of dollars in sales taxes every year and online retailers gaining a decades-long tax advantage against their brick-and-mortar peers.

The decision overturns a 1992 ruling that prevented the practice.

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"In light of internet retailers' pervasive and continuous virtual presence in the states where their websites are accessible, the states have ample authority to require those retailers to collect state sales taxes owed by their customers", U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco said in a friend-of-the-court brief. They said a decision in a case involving mail-order catalogues is obsolete in an era of e-commerce.

From here on out, states can now force shoppers to pay the sales tax upfront no matter where you're buying from. They said local tax laws vary widely across the nation and calculating sales taxes for 10,000 local taxing jurisdictions remains a daunting task.

Although in the past Americans may have purchased online to avoid paying sales tax, they are increasingly shopping online to get items quickly and without having to leave the house, retail experts say. Sellers who use eBay and Etsy, which provide platforms for smaller sellers, also aren't required to collect sales tax nationwide.

Amazon, by far the nation's largest online seller, is not a party to the case, since it now has a physical presence in many states, with warehouses, and pays the taxes.

Alternatively, some people argue that the costs associated with being forced to comply with these new regulations could put some smaller retailers out of business entirely.

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