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Sales Taxes and Internet Commerce

  • Liran Einav
  • Dan Knoepfle
  • Jonathan D. Levin
  • Neel Sundaresan

We estimate the sensitivity of Internet retail purchasing to sales taxes using data from the eBay marketplace. Our first approach exploits the fact that seller locations are revealed only after buyers have expressed interest in an item by clicking on its listing. We use millions of location "surprises" to estimate price elasticities with respect to the effective sales tax. We then use aggregated data to estimate cross-state substitution parameters, and substitution between offline and online purchases, relying on the variation in state and local sales taxes, and on changes in these rates over time. We find substantial sensitivity to sales taxes. Using our item-level approach, we find a price elasticity of around -2 for interested buyers. Using our aggregate approach, we find that a one percentage point increase in a state's sales tax increases online purchases by state residents by just under two percent, but decreases their online purchases from home-state retailers by 3-4 percent.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18018.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18018.

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Date of creation: Apr 2012
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Publication status: published as Liran Einav & Dan Knoepfle & Jonathan Levin & Neel Sundaresan, 2014. "Sales Taxes and Internet Commerce," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(1), pages 1-26, January.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18018
Note: IO ITI LE PE
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Glenn Ellison & Sara Fisher Ellison, 2009. "Tax Sensitivity and Home State Preferences in Internet Purchasing," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 53-71, August.
  2. Raj Chetty & Adam Looney & Kory Kroft, 2009. "Salience and Taxation: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1145-77, September.
  3. Ali Hortaçsu & F. Asís Martínez-Jerez & Jason Douglas, 2009. "The Geography of Trade in Online Transactions: Evidence from eBay and MercadoLibre," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 53-74, February.
  4. Liran Einav & Theresa Kuchler & Jonathan Levin & Neel Sundaresan, 2011. "Learning from Seller Experiements in Online Markets," Discussion Papers 10-033, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  5. Austan Goolsbee & Michael F. Lovenheim & Joel Slemrod, 2010. "Playing with Fire: Cigarettes, Taxes, and Competition from the Internet," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(1), pages 131-54, February.
  6. James Alm & Mikhail I. Melnik, 2005. "Sales Taxes and the Decision to Purchase Online," Public Finance Review, , vol. 33(2), pages 184-212, March.
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