Get over it Featured

9:45am EDT July 22, 2002

Bookstores are my weakness. There’s something very warm and inviting about browsing quietly among the tall, carefully arranged shelves of glossy new bindings, getting lost in the colorful descriptions on each jacket cover, and — ultimately — finding those two or three books I just can’t do without.

It may not be the most efficient way to shop, but, to me, it’s an enjoyable way to wile away an otherwise dreary winter day.

You can’t tell me Amazon.com can replicate that experience. No, shopping online is an efficient, yet impersonal and cold, way to accomplish a specific task. It’s not meant to entice or entertain. It’s meant to be quick and easy.

Which method of shopping you choose depends on your priorities. Some say it also depends on your wallet. Internet retailers don’t charge sales tax on purchases, as local retailers must. Sure, that’s a competitive advantage, but so is offering customers the ability to thumb through books or try on clothing or check the quality of merchandise in person when shopping.

The sales tax advantage is no greater than these others. In fact, I’d argue that it provides less of an edge.

The prospect of saving 5.75 percent on a purchase will not, by itself, drive consumers to the Internet en masse. The Web’s 24-hour convenience and ability to search quickly for specific items might draw them in, but a lack of sales tax isn’t going to tip the scales that much — especially when you factor in the shipping and handling charges online retailers add to the bill.

In 1998, Congress overwhelmingly passed a three-year moratorium on Internet taxation. Since then, U.S. Reps. John Kasich (R-Westerville) and John Boehner (R-West Chester) have proposed making this tax ban permanent. And why shouldn’t it be?

The Internet is an anomaly. Transactions don’t take place in one, physical location; they occur everywhere and nowhere all at once. That, alone, would make taxation a logistical nightmare. And who wants to pay for all the government workers it would take to sort out that puzzle? Not me.

So let’s quit all the whining and get on with business. E-commerce is a fast-growing phenomenon local retailers need to accept and learn to compete with. Asking the government to step in and tax these transactions won’t curb online sales. It will only muddy the waters.

And isn’t business already complicated enough?

Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Columbus.