19 Mar 2021
9 min read

4 Sales Tax Challenges Ecommerce Businesses Must Know How to Address

Running an ecommerce business is like navigating a complex maze, especially when it comes to taxation. Staying compliant with each state's laws can feel like an uphill battle, with sales tax being one of the biggest hurdles. Unfamiliar terrains and ever-changing tax landscapes can catch you off-guard, making your ecommerce journey more challenging than necessary. […]
ecommerce sales tax
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Running an ecommerce business is like navigating a complex maze, especially when it comes to taxation. Staying compliant with each state's laws can feel like an uphill battle, with sales tax being one of the biggest hurdles. Unfamiliar terrains and ever-changing tax landscapes can catch you off-guard, making your ecommerce journey more challenging than necessary.

This article addresses four common sales tax challenges that ecommerce businesses must overcome. It will provide valuable tips on managing these challenges and ensuring your business stays up-to-date with ever-changing taxation rules. Stay tuned to learn more about optimizing your ecommerce venture!

What Are Ecommerce Businesses

What are ecommerce businesses

Ecommerce businesses, often known as online stores, are a virtual embodiment of traditional brick-and-mortar stores with much larger reach and versatility. They are platforms where transactions for goods and services occur over the internet, opening the doors to an expansive, borderless world of opportunities. Whether it's fashion apparel, electronics, digital products, or even grocery items, these businesses have transformed how consumers shop and merchants sell.

They are not bound by the constraints of physical location, making products available to customers far and wide. However, this boundlessness can lead to complex and diverse tax implications. These businesses must effectively handle these online sales tax challenges to ensure seamless operations and maintain compliance with the varying state sales tax laws across different jurisdictions.

Ecommerce Sales Tax Challenges Ecommerce Businesses Face

Ecommerce sales tax challenges ecommerce businesses face

There are several challenges ecommerce businesses must face when it comes to sales tax nexus. Here's a look at the top four:

1. Keeping Up with Changes in Tax Landscapes

The tax landscape is ever-changing, with new laws and guidelines regularly introduced. This makes it difficult for ecommerce businesses to keep up with the latest regulations and remain compliant. For example, many states have changed their sales tax legislation to cope with budget deficits caused by COVID-19. A business owner must stay informed of the changing landscape and educate themselves on these changes' impacts on their business operations.

Additionally, businesses must pay attention to any court rulings or legislative updates that could affect them. They should also stay aware of new sales tax holidays that may be introduced in certain states, as this could significantly reduce costs for ecommerce businesses operating across multiple jurisdictions.

2. Collecting and Remitting Correct Rates of Tax

Ecommerce businesses must pay sales tax based on the rules of each state in which they operate. This means that businesses must calculate sales tax compliance and collect them from customers, making it crucial for them to understand how to remit sales tax in each state. They must also know when taxes should be remitted to the appropriate state government.

The problem is that states constantly change their tax rates, which can challenge businesses operating in multiple jurisdictions. To stay compliant, these businesses must regularly check each state's taxation websites and update their tax settings accordingly.

3. Accurate Tax Calculation Across Multiple States

Calculating local sales taxes accurately across multiple states is a major challenge for ecommerce businesses. It requires understanding the laws and regulations in each jurisdiction they operate in and the products or services they sell. They must also follow uniform tax collection processes and be able to differentiate between inter-state and intra-state sales, as taxes vary depending on this factor.

It can be difficult for ecommerce businesses to accurately calculate taxes across multiple states, especially if they don't have the necessary resources or expertise. Investing in adequate software and systems that will help with tax calculation and filing is important.

4. Differentiating Between Tangible and Intangible Products

Ecommerce businesses must also differentiate between tangible and intangible products regarding taxation, as both require different rules. Tangible products are physical products shipped to customers and subject to sales tax, while intangible products such as digital downloads are usually exempt from local taxes, albeit with certain sales tax exemptions.

For businesses to accurately calculate and file taxes, they must be able to differentiate between these two types of products. This requires understanding how different states classify products and which taxes apply to what kinds of physical and digital goods.

Factors To Consider To Help Ecommerce Businesses Handle Sales Tax Challenges

Factors to consider to help ecommerce businesses handle sales tax challenges

To address the above sales tax challenges, ecommerce businesses must consider the following factors:

Research and Understand Taxation Rules in Each Jurisdiction

Maintaining an up-to-date understanding of taxation rules in every jurisdiction in which your ecommerce business operates is a significant factor that can determine the success of your tax compliance efforts. It's not just about knowing the current sales tax rates; it's about understanding the nuances of every jurisdiction's taxation rules, such as taxable items, exemption conditions, and changes in legislation. For instance, in 2023, California introduced a new law requiring ecommerce businesses to collect use tax on certain goods shipped to California residents from out of state, a significant shift from the previous regulations.

Similarly, in the same year, New York imposed new tax rules on digital goods, resulting in changes to the taxation of certain software and digital media products sold online. These examples underscore the need for ecommerce businesses to continuously research and keep track of taxation rules in all jurisdictions they operate. This includes following updates on state taxation websites, subscribing to tax news and update services, and hiring tax professionals to ensure accurate understanding and compliance with the rules.

Rely on Automated Software Solutions and Tax Specialists

Automating the tax calculation, collection, and remittance process can significantly reduce the burden on ecommerce businesses. This is where automated software solutions come in. They can manage all your sales tax needs on a single platform, from calculating the correct tax rates for each transaction based on the customer's location and the type of product sold to automatically filing tax returns in multiple states. For example, tax automation software like Avalara and TaxJar, widely used by ecommerce businesses in 2023, can keep your business up-to-date with changing tax laws and rates across multiple jurisdictions. They also ensure accurate tax calculation, even for complex transactions, and streamline the tax filing process.

However, navigating the tax landscape can be challenging even with automated software, especially for small businesses without a dedicated tax team. Therefore, hiring tax specialists who can provide expert advice and assistance in dealing with complex tax issues may be beneficial. Tax consultants such as Ryan and Vertex have been helping ecommerce businesses in 2023 navigate the ever-changing tax landscapes and achieve compliance in all jurisdictions they operate in. They provide a comprehensive range of services, from assisting with tax registration and filing to advising on tax planning and dispute resolution. Relying on automated software solutions and tax specialists can significantly reduce the risk of non-compliance and the associated penalties while allowing ecommerce businesses to focus more on their core operations.

Stay Up-to-Date On Tax Law Changes

Tax laws are constantly changing, and the only way for businesses to keep up is by staying informed of all relevant updates. To do this, they should subscribe to state tax news services such as Parker Tax Pro, Avalara's TaxRates service, or Bloomberg BNA. These services provide real-time notifications of updates and changes in tax laws, allowing businesses to adapt their operations and ensure compliance quickly.

For those who prefer a more hands-on approach, manually checking state taxation websites is another option. States such as California and New York regularly updated their sites with information on new legislation related to sales tax registration, filing requirements, and rates. Businesses can also check out the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) website for updates on tax laws and policies across all U.S. states and territories.

Understand The Difference Between Inter-State and Intra-State Sales

Ecommerce businesses must understand the difference between inter-state sales, whereby goods are shipped from one state to another, and intra-state sales, in which goods are sold within the same state. Different rules may apply for both scenarios depending on the customer's location. For instance, inter-state sales could require you to register for and collect taxes in multiple states, even if your business is located only in one.

Similarly, some states might exempt certain products from sales tax if they are shipped out of state while imposing sales tax on the same product when sold within the same state. Thus, businesses must differentiate between inter-state and intra-state sales and know which taxes apply.

Understand Nexus Rules and Other Tax Collection Requirements

Nexus rules are an important factor to consider when determining which taxes your business must collect. A nexus, or a connection between the state and your business activities, such as sales or deliveries, can trigger tax obligations even if the company is outside the jurisdiction. Most states have established economic nexus thresholds that require businesses to collect sales tax if their gross revenue exceeds a certain amount within the state or if they have a specific number of transactions. Therefore, businesses must understand nexus rules and stay up-to-date on changes to determine when applicable taxes must be collected.

In addition, businesses should also know what other requirements need to be met to collect taxes from customers legally. For example, some states have imposed reporting or filing requirements to be followed by businesses registered to collect taxes. When there are any changes in these reporting or filing regulations, businesses must take the necessary steps to comply with them.

File Sales Tax Returns On Time and Manage Refunds

Timely filing of sales tax returns is crucial for businesses to comply with taxation laws. Filing deadlines vary from state to state, so businesses should be aware of when their returns are due and ensure they submit them on time. There may be significant penalties for late filing or non-compliance, such as fines or criminal prosecution.

Businesses should also be aware of how to manage refunds when required. Some states allow businesses to refund taxes collected from customers, but the process may vary from one state to another and involve additional paperwork. Therefore, businesses must understand the rules of tax refunds in each jurisdiction where they operate and keep track of customer refund requests.

Educate and Update Your Staff on Tax Matters

Tax compliance requires a team effort, so businesses must provide their staff with the necessary information and training to ensure accurate tax calculations and filing of returns. Regular updates on changes in tax laws should be communicated to all relevant departments, such as accounting, sales, customer service, and operations.

Businesses should also ensure their staff know the tax registration, calculation, filing, and payment process in each jurisdiction they operate in. This ensures that everyone understands their role in the compliance process and helps to reduce errors or mistakes that could lead to penalties or other legal issues.

Things To Avoid Doing When Dealing With Tax Matters

Apart from the things businesses need to do to remain compliant with tax laws, there are also certain practices they should avoid. These include the following:

Not Registering for a Sales Tax Permit in States Where They’re Required

Ecommerce businesses must ensure they comply with tax laws in their operating states, often requiring them to register for a sales tax permit. Failing to do so can lead to hefty fines or criminal prosecution. Therefore, businesses should double-check whether a permit is required before engaging in any activity involving goods or services subject to taxation. By understanding each state's tax requirements and registering for a permit, businesses can avoid hefty penalties and ensure their operations comply with local laws.

Not Collecting the Right Amount of Taxes

Businesses must know the applicable sales tax rate in each jurisdiction when calculating the amount to collect from customers. Overcharging or undercharging customers on taxes is illegal and bad business practice, as it can lead to unhappy customers who may never shop with you again.

Not Filing or Paying Taxes on Time

Sales tax returns must be filed on time to comply with taxation laws. Late filing can lead to hefty fines or criminal prosecution for businesses that fail to meet revenue deadlines. It’s, therefore, important to know when returns are due and ensure they're submitted on time.

Not Staying Up-To-Date on Changes in Tax Laws

Tax laws constantly change, so businesses must stay abreast of any updates or new regulations affecting their operations. Regularly checking the NCSL website can help businesses keep track of changes in taxation laws in different states and ensure they remain compliant.

Not Filing the Correct Forms

Businesses must know which forms to complete when submitting sales tax returns. Filing incorrect paperwork can lead to a delay in refunds or cause issues with authorities. To avoid this, businesses should familiarize themselves with the forms required for each state's tax return filing process and ensure they're accurate.

Not Providing Appropriate Customer Service

In the event of sales tax errors or incorrect payments, businesses should provide customers with a swift resolution to put things right. This involves understanding each state's refund rules and taking the necessary steps to satisfy customers. Businesses should also keep customer records and follow up with customers to ensure refunds are properly applied.

Not Seeking Professional Advice

Tax matters can be complex, so businesses should consult an experienced tax expert or lawyer for guidance on compliance processes and other related issues. Seeking professional help ensures businesses remain compliant and avoid costly mistakes that could lead to legal action.

Not Having a Clear Understanding of Nexus

Nexus is the legal basis by which states impose taxation on businesses operating within their jurisdiction. Businesses must understand each state's nexus rules to determine if they need to collect sales tax from customers, and when applicable, taxes must be collected. Therefore, businesses need to stay up-to-date on changes in nexus rules and determine if they need to register for a permit in any one jurisdiction.


Ecommerce tax compliance is a complex issue, and businesses must take the necessary steps to remain compliant with local sales tax laws. This involves registering for permits in any relevant jurisdiction, calculating taxes accurately on each sale, filing returns on time, and managing refunds when required. Businesses should also stay abreast of changes in taxation laws across different states and provide their staff with regular updates. Seeking professional help is also advised to ensure businesses remain compliant and avoid costly mistakes that could lead to legal repercussions. By understanding local tax laws and taking the necessary steps, businesses can ensure their operations run smoothly while meeting all government revenue requirements.

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