As eCommerce and online commerce continue to grow, online retailers continue to face the challenge regarding the complex landscape of sales tax. In this blog post, we will delve into the fundamentals of sales tax for eCommerce businesses, exploring how it is applied and why it matters to your online venture.

What is Sales Tax?

A sales tax is a consumption tax imposed by state and local governments on the sale of goods and services. The tax is typically a percentage of the purchase price and is collected by the seller at the point of sale. It is then remitted to the appropriate tax authority. Sales tax revenue helps fund public services and infrastructure projects within the jurisdiction where the sale occurred.

Nexus: A Key Determinant

Nexus is the legal connection or presence a business must have in a state to be required to collect and remit sales tax. In the traditional brick-and-mortar world, nexus is established by having a physical presence in a state, such as a store or a warehouse. However, with the rise of eCommerce, nexus rules have become more complex.

Physical Presence vs. Economic Nexus

Physical presence nexus rules have evolved to include online retailers. In 1992, the Supreme Court case Quill Corp. v. North Dakota established that a business must have a physical presence in a state to be required to collect sales tax. However, this precedent was overturned in 2018 with the case South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. The Court ruled that an economic presence, often measured by a certain sales revenue or transaction volume level, could trigger nexus.

State-by-State Complexity

One of the challenges eCommerce businesses face is the variation in sales tax laws among states. Each state sets its own sales tax rates, rules, and thresholds for economic nexus. Therefore, an online retailer must determine its sales tax obligations for each state in which it has nexus. Some states have simplified rules, while others have complex requirements, creating a compliance burden for eCommerce businesses.

Collecting and Remitting Sales Tax:

Once an eCommerce business determines it has nexus in a particular state, it is responsible for collecting and remitting sales tax on eligible sales. To facilitate this process, online retailers often use automated software solutions or integrated tax management systems that can calculate sales tax based on the customer’s location and applicable tax rates.

Exemptions and Product Taxability

Certain items may be exempt from sales tax, depending on the state. Common exemptions include necessities like food, prescription medications, and medical devices. However, exemptions can vary, and it’s essential to understand the specific rules for each state. Additionally, different states have varying rules regarding product taxability for digital goods, services, and subscriptions.

Compliance and Reporting

Compliance with sales tax laws is crucial for eCommerce businesses. In addition to collecting and remitting sales tax, online retailers must also file regular sales tax returns with the appropriate tax authorities. Compliance requirements can vary by state, with some jurisdictions requiring monthly returns, while others may have quarterly or annual filing obligations.

Sales Tax Automation and Services

Given the complexity of sales tax compliance for eCommerce businesses, many turn to sales tax automation services. These services integrate with online platforms and marketplaces to calculate and collect sales tax, file returns, and handle other compliance-related tasks. Investing in such solutions can help streamline operations and minimize the risk of non-compliance.

Understanding and properly managing sales tax obligations is essential for the success and longevity of an eCommerce business. With varying nexus rules, product taxability, and compliance requirements across states, online retailers must stay informed and utilize available resources to ensure compliance.

Real Xposure is a digital marketing agency, website development, and digital transformation company. If you are unsure about the rules and regulations regarding online commerce or need help with marketing or website development, call us for a free consultation.