Saturday, January 25, 2014 to begin collecting sales tax

To the dismay of many online customers, Promotional announced it would begin to collect sales tax in North Carolina Feb. 1, an official confirmed Thursday.

This move will make North Carolina the 20th state in the nation to have sales tax collected from an online vendor, said Janie Lyn, an Amazon employee.

But this is not the first time North Carolina has brought Amazon's policies into the public eye.

Mike Meno, spokesman for the North Carolina ACLU, said the organization has challenged the state government's involvement in collecting information from Amazon's online orders.

"Our contention in that case was about the state getting involved and having the customer information turned over to the state," he said. "It's a pretty clear violation of someone's privacy."

Meno said a federal judge found it unconstitutional for the government to link customers to the items they purchased in a 2011 settlement.

But Meno said he did not foresee similar problems occurring with Amazon's latest North Carolina policy.

"Now that this tax issue seems to be settled, the government doesn't seem to be interested in collecting that data," he said.

Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the North Carolina ACLU, said the organization did not take a position on the question of whether sales tax needed to be collected.

"The decision by Amazon to begin collecting sales taxes on the front end of purchases will save customers from having to keep receipts and pay use taxes on the back end, and will negate any interest the state could have in tracking customers' purchases on," she said.

But not everyone is dissatisfied with Amazon's latest move. Some shop owners believe the imposition of a new sales tax could help level the playing field for local brick-and-mortar businesses.

Stacie Smith, manager of Bull's Head Bookshop, said this change could potentially help her business, as well as others in the area and around the state.

But Smith remains skeptical.

"I hope it makes a difference," she said. "But sales tax, to me, has never seemed that high."

Smith said Bull's Head has lost a lot of business to online merchants, but the store still manages to hold on to its loyal customers.

"We get good feedback when they come in," she said. "They appreciate that we're local."

Smith said while Bull's Head cannot match Amazon's prices, the store discounts more books to remain competitive and does not mind taking requests for future book orders.

"Everyone has sort of been trained by Amazon that they should get 40 percent off, so we thought, 'Why not?'" she said.

"I think it's a good thing, I just don't know how good a thing yet."

Linnie Greene, marketing director of Chapel Hill's Flyleaf Books, said she has similar views and thinks the tax is fair.

"I think that they should pay the tax just like the rest of the businesses in North Carolina," she said.

Greene, a self-proclaimed proponent of "mom and pop" businesses, said she was happy with the decision.

But like Smith, Greene said she remains skeptical that the tax will have any dramatic fiscal effect.

"Places like Amazon tend to undercut a smaller business," she said. "If the end-all be-all is that customers want to pay less money, then I don't think we'll ever be able to compete."

Greene said cost will always be the deciding factor of where customers choose to shop.

"I'm sure there are people in Chapel Hill who use the internet for the majority of their shopping," Greene said. "But a lot of people in the area are conscientious about putting money back into the community."

Samantha Bender, a junior at UNC, said she bought an assortment of items from Amazon, from textbooks to Keurig's K-Cups.

"It's so much cheaper than buying them here," she said.

Even with the sales tax, some students said their purchasing habits probably wouldn't change.

Nathan Owens, a freshman and frequent Amazon shopper, said he was not aware of the tax change.

"I don't feel like it's been advertised as much as it should," Bender said. "I'll probably still buy from (Amazon) because it's cheaper."

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