SAN FRANCISCO - Amazon.com is taking a hit in states that are collecting an online sales tax. In one of the first efforts to quantify the impact of states' accruing more tax revenue from Web purchases, researchers at Ohio State University published a paper this month that found sales dropped for Amazon when the online charge was introduced.
SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon.com is taking a hit in states that are collecting an online sales tax.
In one of the first efforts to quantify the impact of states’ accruing more tax revenue from Web purchases, researchers at Ohio State University published a paper this month that found sales dropped for Amazon when the online charge was introduced.
In states that have the tax, households reduced their spending on Amazon by about 10 percent compared to those in states that don’t have the levy. For online purchases of more than $300, sales fell by 24 percent, according to the report, titled “The Amazon Tax.”
The findings add to concerns about how much the world’s largest online retailer can expand. The Seattle-based company has been grappling with decelerating revenue growth amid heavy spending by CEO Jeff Bezos on new initiatives. Amazon has enjoyed an edge against bricks-and-mortar retailers because consumers didn’t have to pay sales tax for purchases from the e-commerce site, but it has eroded as states including California and Texas have unveiled the levies.
“There is no ambiguity,” Brian Baugh of Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business, one of the report’s authors, said in an interview last week. “It has been their competitive advantage.”
The push by states to collect taxes on Internet purchases has gathered momentum in the past few years. Amazon collects sales tax in 20 states, according to its website. More are set to follow as the company has become a popular target to help state governments generate more revenue to cover budget shortfalls. Florida is set to begin charging a tax on May 1.
States lose an estimated $23 billion a year in uncollected sales taxes from Web retailers.
“As analysts have noted, Amazon offers the best prices with or without sales tax,” Ty Rogers, a spokesman for Amazon, said in an email.
Amazon and other online retailers have fought some efforts to implement the taxes, with the U.S. Supreme Court in December rejecting an appeal by the company to rule against a New York law forcing it to collect money from customers. New York and others have said the push to tax Amazon is an effort to treat online and bricks-and-mortar retailers equally.
Amazon supports federal legislation that would explicitly let states require tax collections by all online retailers above a certain size.
Some analysts have previously said the online taxes had a minimal effect on Amazon’s sales. In a 2012 report, Matt Nemer, an analyst at Wells Fargo & Co., said consumers in Texas, which had recently introduced the levy, generally weren’t aware of the tax and doubted it would “materially impact” Amazon’s revenue.
The Ohio State University researchers tracked the spending of about 245,000 households that shelled out at least $100 to Amazon during the first six months of 2012, and then kept tabs on them through the end of 2013. About a third of the subjects lived in California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia — states where new tax laws were implemented during that time.
In addition to quantifying the sales impact, the researchers also concluded that bricks-and-mortar stores didn’t hugely benefit from households’ reducing their spending on Amazon. That’s because many shoppers turned to online alternatives.