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Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN), eBay Inc (EBAY): Will a New Online Sales Tax Really Destroy Small Business?

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Online retailing has grown into a multibillion-dollar business, as more consumers head to the Web to shop. This trend in online spending has been a boon to Internet retailers, such as Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) and eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY). However, not everyone is happy with the massive influx of online shoppers. State governments, for example, complain that billions of dollars in sales taxes are lost each year under the current legislation.

Based on a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, only retailers with a physical presence in the state are required to collect sales tax. Of course, this came back to bite Amazon last year, when the e-tailer was forced to start collecting taxes in states where it had warehouses. Today, the tax war rages on, only this time it’s not Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) that’s opposing it.

Word on the street
The Senate is expected to vote this week on a possible Internet sales tax law, which would force out-of-state online retailers to collect state sales tax, regardless of whether they have a physical presence there. eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) and others against the proposed legislation argue that the bill, if passed, would put an unfair burden on small business.

In fact, eBay CEO John Donahoe reportedly sent an email to tens of millions of eBay sellers advising them to fight Congress on the bill. He went on to say, “The legislation treats you and big multibillion-dollar online retailers — such as Amazon — exactly the same,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN)This, perhaps, explains why Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) suddenly supports the new taxation policy. You see, the Marketplace Fairness Act, as it’s being called, would be an encumbrance to smaller online sellers that don’t have the resources of larger rivals such as Amazon. Not to mention that Amazon is already required to charge sales tax on purchases in nine U.S. states, including Arizona, California, New York, and Texas.

So just how fair is the Marketplace Fairness Act?

Large and in charge
For years, Internet-based retailers have had a tax advantage over bricks-and-mortar retailers such as Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT) and Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY). Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), in part by not collecting taxes, was able to offer the lowest prices possible. As a result, consumers began using Best Buy and other big-box stores to comparison-shop. Customers would visit Best Buy to interact with the products and later make purchases elsewhere online.

Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) continued to ignore the problem of “showrooming” and ultimately saw its market share deteriorate. It’s not surprising, then, that bricks-and-mortar retailers are on the side of state lawmakers in pushing for a national Internet sales tax bill. However, will the new tax really sabotage small online businesses?

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