Tax Net Commerce

FRAMINGHAM (03/03/2000) - It's an election year, and that usually means lots of huffing and puffing over content-free issues. It's also the roaring '00s, so it isn't surprising that politicians nationwide are latching onto the cyber-savvy sounding, but relatively risk-free, concept of a tax-free e-economy. Not a day goes by without some opportunistic yahoo stepping up to the mike to take the pledge.

Talk about a nonissue! The oft expressed fear that we can't tax Net businesses right now because the whole Net economy is so fragile that it will come crashing down around our ears is laughable.

A bigger worry ought to be today's exaggerated values of dot-com stock leading to inevitable reverberations rippling through the stock market tomorrow.

For one thing, there's the issue of fairness. If we're going to say taxes should be paid on certain products, those taxes should be paid no matter where the point of purchase is. All for-profit enterprises should carry the load, regardless of whether their address is virtual or how their business is conducted.

Don't worry about the surfin' safari; it's here to stay! Consumers have discovered the Internet, and buying and selling will never be the same.

If consumers abandon the Net, it won't be because they have to pay a sales tax - something most people take for granted anyhow. The real issue is customer service.

You shop online because it's supposed to be convenient - day or night - and fast. Because you can cover a lot more ground in one virtual shopping spree than you ever could in real time. You do it because you (usually) have more choices and a better chance of finding what you're looking for.

And yet despite the promise, there are a lot of truly wretched Web sites out there. That's the real threat to a vibrant Internet economy, and correcting it calls for information technology departments to step in and work in partnership with the business side to build technology that ensures a pleasant experience online and an efficient operation behind the scenes, throughout the life of the transaction.

This is where the battle for confidence in the online purchasing experience will be won or lost. Not at the checkout counter, when some piddling sales tax is assessed and added to the bill.

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