E-Commerce Asks the Tough Questions, Gets No Answers

For you and me, it’s death and taxes, as the old saying goes. Certain things are inevitable.

And in the world of e-commerce, several issues are sure to return, each and every year. These are perennial Internet issues, the ones that you can count on being wrestled with, pondered over, but never quite put to rest.

From shipping to taxes to privacy, these issues steal away precious resources, redirect our focus — and just plain go unsolved, time and time again.

The reason these Internet issues don’t go away is that the solutions are painful,each in their own way. However, at some point, the lack of a solution is worse than even the most difficult resolution.

Let’s Make a Deal

Next month, the U.S. government’s moratorium on requiring collection of Internet sales taxes is set to expire. Sounds like an ideal time to crack this particular nut,doesn’t it?

Well, maybe to you and me. But lawmakers know better than to try to handle a hot potato like that.

So the debate becomes not whether to end the moratorium, but for how long to extend it. One option is a supposed permanent moratorium. I say supposed because the notion that anything can make this issue go away is ludicrous.

Always There

The states’ demands for a piece of the e-commerce pie are not going to fade away. On the contrary, when states see the potential tax bite from e-commerce getting larger and larger every year, and watch revenues from currently taxed offline sales start to shrink, the call for re-opening the issue will be renewed.

But even a temporary extension of the moratorium is a cop-out. The idea being put forth is that it will give some smart people time to get together and map out a way to make this all work.

Of course, that could have beendone five years ago. But it’s so much easier to put things off.

Ultimately, the tax question will go on unfixed, lingering like a bad cavity, for another year or two or three. Why not accept the inevitable — online sales will be taxed one day — and get it over with?

What’s Mine is Yours

Then there’s the privacy issue. This one is even less likely to be solved because doing so would require the will and action of another confrontation-avoiding group: the buying public.

Every so often, consumers will get moderately enraged about some privacy rule or other. The sale of a customer list here, or the posting of a new opt-out policy there. But there has been little or no progress in resolving the problem.

Let me restate that: E-tailers and other sites have made efforts toaddress privacy issues, crafting opt-out clauses into their policies. Butis anyone actually using them? Of course not. Why take a detour on the wayto the checkout counter?

As sure as summer will turn to fall, privacy will always be an issue online.

Postman Rings Again

So will shipping. Who pays? How do they pay? When do they find out howmuch they’ll pay? How long do they wait for their stuff?

All of these questions have been answered in various ways to date, butnone of the answers has satisfied everyone. If it’s good for the merchant,it’s not so good for the customer, and vice-versa.

Is There an Answer?

But like the privacy issue, the shipping question is mostly a matter of communication. When it comes to privacy, customers just want to know what personal information is being collected, who might get it someday and how they can get off the direct marketing lists. When it comes to shipping, customers want to know — before they buy — how much delivery is costing them.

Maybe some of these perennial problems won’t turn out to be that intractable afterall. Of course, if we fixed them, what would we have to chat about?

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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