From Wolf Street:
But for many retailers it’s too late.And from Fortune, July 16:
Amazon battled states for years to avoid having to collect sales taxes. Walmart was on the other side of the fight, along with state revenue offices. Walmart had to add sales taxes to all its sales in California, whether online or brick-and-mortar, which at the time ranged from 7.25% to 9.75% depending on location. For shoppers, that price difference was reason enough to switch to Amazon. It was in essence a massive taxpayer subsidy for Amazon.
But Amazon lost that battle and started charging sales taxes in California in September, 2012. State after state followed. By early 2017, Amazon was charging sales taxes in all 45 states that have state-wide sales taxes and in Washington DC.
Still, even in 2016, online retailers dodged paying $17.2 billion in sales taxes on out-of-state sales, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. For them, it’s a massive price advantage that other retailers didn’t get.
The fight over sales taxes is based on a Supreme Court case of 1992 – Quill Corp. v. North Dakota – that barred states from forcing companies to collect sales taxes if they didn’t have physical facilities in those states, such as stores or warehouses.
For Amazon, this got increasingly complicated as it is building out its distribution network, with warehouses and facilities around the country. So now Amazon is collecting sales taxes.
Problem solved? Nope.
Amazon only collects sales taxes on sales of inventory that it owns (first-party sales). But Amazon is also a platform that sells merchandise owned by other sellers (third-party sales). About half of the goods sold on the Amazon platform fall into this category. Amazon leaves sales tax collections to the 2 million merchants on its platform. But they claim that it’s not their job to collect sales taxes, and most of them don’t collect them. Hence, third-party sales still get the taxpayer subsidy.
Amazon isn’t the only out-of-state retailer or platform. It’s just the biggest one. eBay and many others are impacted by it too. Legally, this remains murky. But states and brick-and-mortar retailers are fighting to get the subsidy scrapped....MUCH MORE
This Analyst Claims the U.S. Postal Service Is Giving Amazon a Huge Subsidy
The 'unfair advantage' amounts to $1.46 per package.
The U.S. Postal Service and Amazon have a special relationship. In 2013, for instance, the USPS agreed to offer Sunday delivery of Amazon packages.FreightWaves—"FreightTech is the new FinTech"—has more detail.
But shipping industry watcher and money manager Josh Sandbulte thinks there’s an ugly underside to the USPS-Amazon collaboration. Sandbulte, writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, argued that the USPS effectively subsidizes the price of shipping Amazon’s packages.
According the Sandbulte, Congress has barred USPS from setting its parcel prices below its costs, to keep it from unfairly undercutting competitors like FedEx and UPS. But the formula for calculating those costs, set in 2006, hasn’t kept pace as packages have come to make up a higher and higher percentage of USPS volume. The law set the share of infrastructure costs associated with packages at 5.5%, but boxes now make up around 25% of Postal Service revenue.
Sandbulte cites an April analysis by Citigroup that put a price tag on the resulting distortion. If package delivery bore its fair share of Postal Service system costs, each box would cost $1.46 more to deliver. That “subsidy” is systemwide, and the USPS has courted other large e-commerce companies.
But Amazon’s size means that it benefits disproportionately, and ships around 40% of its deliveries with USPS. In Sandbulte’s view, this means the Postal Service is “picking winners and losers in the retail world.”
But Sandbulte’s investment firm holds FedEx stock, meaning he has a direct interest in critiquing the USPS, and his analysis is debatable on several points. He disingenuously describes the pricing situation as “a gift card from Uncle Sam,” which implies there’s tax money involved. But the USPS doesn’t receive tax revenues.
Additionally, USPS’s legal duty to provide universal service means that even at a discount, shipping boxes for Amazon helps it generate revenue from potentially unused capacity. Fixed costs aside, USPS package delivery is profitable, helping subsidize rural service and letter delivery. So there’s room for disagreement about whether the situation is actually unjust.
Amazon issued the following statement in response to Sandbulte’s claims: “As is the case with all of its customers, our partnership with USPS is reviewed annually by the Postal Regulatory Commission, which has spent decades reviewing and approving USPS costing and pricing practices....MORE