Blog: June 2011
Budget/Points Widget for storeBlox CSJune 30, 2011
Now, logged-in visitors can monitor the balances on multiple budgets in a simple, persistent widget available in the lefthand navigation bar on your company store. In addition, if your store has a points-based payment system enabled, customers may also view their points balance at any time. Every store-based payment method is now available at a glance. This feature is available in every Pro-level store – just enable it in webBlox.
storeBlox CS Email Template ManagementJune 27, 2011
We’ve now given you complete control over the content and formatting of all the emails generated by your company store. Our new Email Notification system allows complete customization of every email – total control over WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) HTML and variables. If you need to customize messaging, formatting or content, it’s all available now in the webBlox store management system, for every type of message:
- Approval notification
- Approval Request
- Customer confirmation
- Order notification
- Rejection notification
- Shipment Notification
- Update notification
To simplify things further, we provide a contextual reference for every available variable in a given email template, right underneath the editor for your reference:
As always, we provide a default template for notifications, so if you don’t want to mess with this, you don’t have to. But if you need to insert custom information, branding, or re-arrange or repeat elements in your email, you’ve got all the tools you need to manage formatting and content. As always, if you need assistance, don’t hesitate to check out the video tutorials available over at the storeBlox CS Video Training Center, or contact us with your questions.
Is Online Sales Tax Coming to a Head?June 9, 2011
As an e-commerce platform vendor, we’ve been following the internet sales tax debate, well, practically since it started, and not much has changed since then. States continue to be deprived of – deservedly or not, depending on where you stand – sales tax revenue on products that consumers order from out-of-state vendors. States like Texas, where we’re headquartered, are authorized to collect a “use” tax on anything you buy out of state and have shipped here. That means, yes, you are liable for eighty or so cents of tax on that Whitney Houston Greatest Hits CD you ordered from Amazon last week.
As a practical matter, Texas doesn’t spend any time going after consumers for non-payment of use tax. There’s a form socked away on the State Comptroller’s web site for you to report the items you ordered from out of state and didn’t pay tax on, but consumers largely ignore it. Instead, the Comptroller strictly polices use tax with businesses – if you order a dozen laptops from Amazon and don’t report it as “items you bought for your own use,” you’ll have generous tax and penalties visited upon you during your next friendly audit.
The collection of sales tax on internet (or, really, any mail-order transaction from out of state) purchases has always revolved around one thing in most states: a concept called “nexus.” Nexus means, in simple terms, that if your business has a physical presence of any kind in a state, you are obliged to collect sales tax on behalf of that state. You’re headquartered in Seattle but you’ve got a distribution center in Dallas, then Texas expects you to collect sales tax on the orders you ship to us Texans down here. Sounds simple enough, right?
It gets a little more complicated than that. Many states – Texas included – have labyrinthine tax codes that stipulate different tax rates based on the type of product sold, and endless rate variations based on the city, county, municipality, transportation district, and so on. Multiply that complexity by fifty, and you get some idea of how tough it can be to collect sales tax on everything you ship around the country. And, despite a decade of efforts by groups of state governors to modernize the collection of tax in interstate shipping, we’re no closer to a unified, simplified method of tax collection than we were last century. Instead, states have taken the lead in enforcement, and they have become more aggressive. With an estimated $7 billion in lost tax revenue on the line, it’s hard to blame them.
Amazon’s stand on this is clear: sales tax is “very complicated,” according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “The right place to fix this is with federal legislation.” Of course, Bezos doesn’t really want any of this fixed, because one of Amazon’s primary selling points is that its prices are automatically anywhere from 5-10% lower than local retailers, simply based on the lack of sales tax. While Amazon offers other discounts and advantages, paying ten bucks less than your local Best Buy on that Lost: The Final Season box set can be a pretty compelling reason to buy it from Amazon. Amazon realizes that their primary battle for many consumer goods is challenging the instant gratification of local retailers. Getting someone to wait a few days means the deal has to be pretty special.
Amazon has escalated the tax collection war by building distribution centers around the country, then jiggering the ownership of those centers in novel ways so it does not appear that they are owned by Amazon itself. This practice got Amazon in tax trouble here in Texas: the company (through a subsidiary) opened a distribution center in Irving (outside of Dallas) and, a few years later, the Texas Comptroller sent them a bill for uncollected sales tax and penalties on the order of $269 million. Amazon responded by closing the distribution center and eliminating hundreds of jobs. Clearly, Bezos is not afraid to play chicken with state tax collectors.
Don’t expect this to be resolved soon. In the current political climate, discussions that include the word “tax” must also invariably have the words “cut” or “eliminate” in them. States will likely continue to fend for themselves for many years to come; a federal solution doesn’t appear to be any closer than it was a decade ago. If you do have any type of business presence in another state – including a temporary one, like a long stay at a tradeshow – contact the tax authorities in that state prior to selling anything there. California, in particular, is very loose in its interpretation of nexus, and you might be surprised that your business trip constituted sufficient nexus to be responsible for tax on things you sold there, even if you have no office in the state.
Online retailers have two choices: If you’re small and operate only in a single state, you may be able to largely ignore the drama and worry solely about taxes in your own locale. Stay up to date with tax laws and ask questions whenever you’re concerned about a potential tax liability. On the other hand, if you have a business presence of any sort (even salespeople) all over the country, you might consider using an e-commerce platform and/or sales tax calculation service that handles all the minutia of districts and rates. These services are often priced on a transaction basis and can cut into your margins, but adding another fifteen or twenty cents to every transaction is a whole lot cheaper than a big tax bill.
While Bezos is right that sales tax is “complicated,” he’s being disingenuous – Amazon is one of the leading technology companies in the world, and they have the capacity to figure out sales tax. Wal-Mart, Apple and thousands of other online retailers that also have brick-and-mortar stores in every state charge local sales tax whenever you order online. Sales tax may be a pain to collect and administer, but Bezos is much more concerned about preserving that competitive edge in pricing than he is about the difficulty of tax collection.