How Sales Taxes Affect Customer and Firm Behavior: The Role of Search on the Internet
31 Pages Posted: 16 May 2007 Last revised: 25 Feb 2015
Date Written: January 2009
When a multi-channel retailer opens its first retail store in a state, the firm is obligated to collect sales taxes on all Internet and catalog orders shipped to that state. In this paper, we assess how opening a store affects Internet and catalog demand. We analyze purchase behavior among customers who live far from the retail store but who are obligated to pay sales taxes on catalog and Internet purchases. A comparable group of customers in a neighboring state serves as a control. We show that Internet sales decrease significantly, but catalog sales are unaffected. Further investigation indicates that the difference in these outcomes is partly attributable to the ease with which customers can search for lower prices at competing retailers. We extend the analysis to a panel of multi-channel firms and show that retailers who earn a large proportion of their revenue from direct channels avoid opening a first store in high-tax states. We conclude that current U.S. sales taxes laws have significant effects on both customer and firm behavior.
Keywords: Sales Taxes
JEL Classification: H2, L5
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation