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Rejecting shopping accounts


By Scott Bradner


Tis the season to be shopping (and shopping and shopping).  More relevant to the scope of this column is the data point that more and more of this shopping is being done on-line.  I expect that even more would be if some of the on-line retailers were not quite so greedy.


Depending on whose guessing you want to believe, on-line holiday-related sales will be 26% to 42% greater than last year.  If these predictions turn out to be accurate, on-line holiday sales will total as much as $17 billion.  This is still a rather small part of the overall of holiday-related sales in the U.S.  The highest estimate I've seen in the press is that on-line sales will amount to only 7.7% of overall sales.  One estimate I saw projected that on-line holiday sales would exceed catalogue holiday sales in the next year or two.  A nice rate of growth but not one that I would expect to continue for all that long - too many people (not including me) seem to find the crush at the shopping malls to be an intrinsic part of the gift giving process.


As you might expect, news of the growth of on-line holiday sales has managed to further excite the local tax collectors over the missed revenue opportunity represented by most on-line (and catalogue) sales.  Headway has been made on the taxing front.  Quite a few states are well along in the process of simplifying their tax structures so that they are ready when the "Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Act," a bill currently being discussed in the U.S. Congress or something like it passes in the next year or two.  I fully expect to pay sales taxes on most of my on-line purchases next year although the often glacial processes in Washington may keep it from happening for another year.  (I do not know how one can have glaciers in a place that gets so hot in August but the glaciers seem to be prevalent.)


I've done a lot of on-line shopping this year.  Most of the experience has been quite good.  Most on-line retailers have web sites where it's easy to find things, check stock, enter shipping and credit card information and move onto the next site.  But I ran into two other classes of sites where it is clear that the vendor does not know what they are doing.  A few web sites seem to have been designed by the developer of Dungeons and Dragons -- things are almost impossible to find and even if you manage to find what you want you cannot figure out how to checkout. 


The most annoying problem I found were those sites that insist on forging a life-long bond with you.  You cannot just buy something - you have to set up an account complete with password.  As far as I can tell they just want to have a way to spam you later.  Needless to say, sites like that did not get my business.  If they had just let me buy the stuff they would have.  Maybe next year I'll get simplicity along with the taxes.


disclaimer:  Simplicity is not a feature of any organization, like Harvard, which is more than 350 years old so the above plea is mine not the University's.