In August 2015, the Australian government announced an impending change to their tax structure that will impact online retailers serving the market via international shipping. Today, Australian consumers can import up to A$1,000 duty-free when they buy from a foreign retailer. The A$1,000 duty-free exemption is known as the low value threshold (LVT) and it has driven a large cross-border shopping habit among online shoppers in Australia. But change is afoot and retailers should know that:
Goods and services tax (GST) will be added to cross-border transactions previously exempt. As of July 2017, the Australian government will be expanding its GST collection to purchases previously exempt under the A$1,000 threshold. Additionally, the government stipulates the onus is on retailers to collect and remit the tax: According to the Australian Treasury Department, "For goods with a value of A$1,000 or less, GST is applied at point of sale. Overseas vendors with an Australian turnover of $75,000 or more will be required to register, collect and remit GST on low value goods."*
Today is, apparently, Cyber Monday in the UK. But there's a more interesting story in the UK's eCommerce market. It's about tax.
The debate is about the tax policies of a number of prominent multi-national businesses that operate in the UK, including Amazon, eBay, Google, Starbucks and Vodafone, most of which pay little or no Corporation Tax, which is levied as a percentage of profits. (It's relatively easy and perfectly legal for a subsidiary of a multi-national company to avoid taxes on profits in one country by buying services from a sister company in another country so that it makes no profit in the first country.)
Today, the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons published a scathing report on tax avoidance by multi-national companies operating in the UK. As the report puts it about Starbucks, which has made no profits in the UK for 14 of the past 15 years: "We found it difficult to believe that a commercial company with a 31% market share by turnover, with a responsibility to its shareholders and investors to make a decent return, was trading with apparent losses for nearly every year of its operation in the UK." What the committee says about Amazon is, if anything, worse.
What's the relevance to eBusiness? While it's uncomfortable for Google and Starbucks to be in the limelight for the wrong reasons, demand for both information and coffee is (presumably) fairly constant through the year. But for retailers Amazon and eBay, the timing couldn't be worse, because this debate is taking place in the run-up to Christmas, the crucial sales period for all retailers in the UK.