Can Taxes Shape an Industry? Evidence from the Implementation of the "Amazon Tax"

Brian Baugh, Itzhak Ben-David, Hoonsuk Park

NBER Working Paper No. 20052
Issued in April 2014
NBER Program(s):   CF   IO

For years, online retailers have maintained a price advantage over brick-and-mortar retailers by not collecting sales tax at the time of sale. Recently, several states have required that the online retailer Amazon collect sales tax during checkout. Using transaction-level data, we document that households living in these states reduce Amazon purchases by 9.4% after sales tax laws were implemented, implying elasticities ranging from –1.2 to –1.4. The effect is more pronounced for large purchases, for which we estimate a reduction of 29.1% in purchases, corresponding to an elasticity of –3.9. Studying competitors in the electronics field, we detect some evidence of substitution toward competing retailers. Consistent with an income effect, we find a reduction in spending in other categories that is concentrated among the heaviest Amazon shoppers.

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This paper was revised on September 21, 2016

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20052

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