UPDATE: After this post was published, Amazon announced that it will begin collecting sales tax in Oklahoma on March 1. This post has been updated to reflect this development.
The nation’s largest Internet retailer has made an about-face on its sales tax policy, making consumers’ ability to evade sales tax on online purchases a little less common. By March 1, the number of states where Amazon.com collects sales tax will have leapt from 29 to 40 in a span of just two months.
On Jan. 1, the company began collecting tax in Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Utah. Starting Feb. 1, the company began collecting sales tax in Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont, and on March 1 it will do the same in Oklahoma and Wyoming.
Five states don’t levy state-level sales taxes, so this means there are only five states left where Amazon will still refuse to collect the taxes owed by its customers: Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, and New Mexico.
This is a dramatic reversal in the company’s tax collection practices. As our animated map shows, as recently as 2011 Amazon was only collecting sales tax in five states.
Many of the changes in Amazon’s sales tax collection practices are rooted in its opening of distribution centers around the country. When Amazon, or any retailer, establishes a “physical presence” in a state it unquestionably falls within reach of that state’s sales tax collection laws.
In other cases, it appears that Amazon’s decision to collect sales tax might be related to state-level laws seeking to expand the scope of state sales tax collection statutes. But in Mississippi and Vermont, for example, those laws were not scheduled to go into effect until July and Amazon did not respond to journalists’ questions regarding why the company is beginning tax collection five months early.
Amazon is the nation’s largest e-retailer and its decision to collect, or not collect, sales tax has a meaningful impact on states’ sales tax revenues. But it is worth remembering that Amazon is just one of many e-retailers. As our policy brief on this topic concludes: “Until either Congress or the Supreme Court acts to allow states to require that all Internet retailers collect sales taxes … there is no doubt that the preferential treatment of e-commerce will continue, and that ‘brick and mortar’ retailers, law-abiding taxpayers, and state tax collections will suffer.”