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Cross-border Shopping and State Use Tax Liabilities: Evidence from eBay Transactions


  • James Alm

    () (Department of Economics, Tulane University)

  • Mikhail I. Melnik

    () (Department of Business Administration, School of Engineering Technology and Management, Southern Polytechnic State University)


Online commerce presents consumers with a convenient way of shopping outside of their local jurisdiction, and this online purchase decision is capable of affecting in significant ways the sales and use tax collections of state governments. However, the actual revenue impact has proven difficult to estimate. There is considerable work that examines the revenue impact of seller compliance with sales taxes. However, there is little work on buyer compliance with use taxes. In this paper we investigate the potential impact of cross-border shopping on state use tax liabilities of buyers, using data from the largest online consumer-to-consumer and business-to-consumer marketplace, We collect our own data on actual cross-border shopping transactions from eBay, focusing upon a "representative" commodity classification and a "typical" day; these data consist of nearly twenty-one thousand eBay listings generated by roughly seven thousand individual sellers with over nine thousand buyers. These data allow us to examine the extent of actual, not estimated, cross-border shopping by buyers, and the subsequent potential impact of this cross-border shopping on state use tax liabilities. Our results indicate that cross-border shopping is highly prevalent on eBay, with out-of-state purchases accounting for on average 94 percent of the volume of a state's purchase transactions. Even so, given the limited volume of eBay-based transactions relative to total sales transactions, the likely impact of cross-border transactions on state use tax revenue streams is quite low, at least at present, typically less than one percent of actual state sales tax revenues.

Suggested Citation

  • James Alm & Mikhail I. Melnik, 2012. "Cross-border Shopping and State Use Tax Liabilities: Evidence from eBay Transactions," Working Papers 1205, Tulane University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:tul:wpaper:1205

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    Cited by:

    1. James Alm & Keith Finlay, 2013. "Who Benefits from Tax Evasion?," Economic Analysis and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 139-154, September.
    2. repec:sae:pubfin:v:45:y:2017:i:4:p:443-457 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. James Alm & Mikhail I. Melnik, 2012. "Does Online Cross-border Shopping Affect State Use Tax Liabilities?," Working Papers 1206, Tulane University, Department of Economics.
    4. James Alm & Trey Dronyk-Trosper & Steven M. Sheffrin, 2017. "What Drives State Tax Reforms?," Public Finance Review, , vol. 45(4), pages 443-457, July.

    More about this item


    online commerce; sales taxes; nexus; tax evasion;

    JEL classification:

    • H71 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H73 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - Interjurisdictional Differentials and Their Effects

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