Simplifying Ecommerce Tax Compliance Featuring Avalara

"I thought I knew a lot about the ins and outs of why tax technology is so important, but you've just added a whole other layer!"

Beyond the Cart Lightburn Podcast - Ecommerce
Graphic that shows simplifying ecommerce tax compliance with Avalara.

EPISODE 09: Simplifying Ecommerce Tax Compliance featuring Avalara

Tax collection for ecommerce is more complicated than ever. That's why we invited Meg Higgins, VP and GM, ecommerce and marketplaces at Avalara, to help explain the ins and outs of this topic.


Today’s Topics:

  • Tax Technology
  • Tax Compliance & Reporting
  • Choosing the Right Tax Partner
  • Integrations
  • International Shipping


The following is a transcript of the podcast: 

Nora: Hello ecommerce fans. This is Nora and this is Beyond the Cart, a podcast all about direct-to-consumer ecommerce. Today, we're talking tax collection. There's more than meets the eye as you consider how to collect and report on taxes. So we called on an expert in the field. We're so glad to have Meg Higgins, Vice President of ecommerce and marketplaces for Avalara, a leader in tax compliance for companies large and small. We've recommended Avalara to many clients and have always been impressed. Meg, welcome to Beyond the Cart!

Meg:  Hi, Nora. Good morning. Thanks so much for having me.

Nora: It's great to have you. Can you share a little bit about your background with the folks listening?

Meg: Sure, happy to. It's funny to hear you, you introducing me as a tax expert (laughs). I never would have thought I would be a tax expert at this point in my career, but, I've been in ecommerce for 20 plus years. I've been at Avalara, uh, for about two years now, actually, two years tomorrow. And, um-

Nora: Congratulations (laughs).

Meg: Thank you, thank you. I know I was looking at the date this week and realizing it's my two year anniversary here. So it's flown by and certainly been interesting with COVID. But I lead our marketplace and ecommerce segment here at Avalara. So I work with clients of all sizes, retailers of all sizes, and our partners specifically. So partners, such as Shopify, or BigCommerce, and then marketplaces of all sorts of sizes and locations. So, Amazon or Etsy, a long list of marketplaces that service different, niches and categories. And so, I've been here, as I mentioned for about two years, and prior to that, I was at Pitney Bowes and I was leading our retail practice for partners and clients of all different sizes, and e-commerce and specifically helping them with their global e-commerce needs and fulfillment and returns. And so I've been in the shipping and logistics space prior to this.

Nora: Oh, wow. Well, maybe we'll have to tap into your network for one of our future episodes for somebody who's still there.

Meg: For sure (laughs).

Nora: ... that is also an important topic.

Meg: Sure! 

Nora: But today, we're talking taxes. So, I thought maybe you could help us out with a little bit of background on where we're at with collecting taxes in ecommerce today. Things have changed a lot over the last few years. You know, I was just reading that Wisconsin just eliminated the economic Nexus transaction threshold, which is a mouthful (laughs).

Meg: Yeah.

Nora: But, it's basically like, sort of this evolution that's happening. Can you talk a little bit about where things have been?

Meg: Yeah, for sure. You know, it's interesting, because I've been in eCommerce for so long. And I've always been on the shipping logistics or even on the front end around the cart and the experience of payments. And I never really appreciated how challenging taxes and how critical it is, you just assume tax is just core to the transaction.

And, you know, it's, it's sort of implied that it is just available to figure out. But, you know, over the years, particularly starting in 2018, once Wayfair and South Dakota passed in the Supreme Court, and that was a massively impactful decision on eCommerce and on retailers of all sizes, because it's created this complex environment where you have to now figure out where, you know, when do I charge sales tax? What are exemptions of sales tax? You know, “economic nexus” is a term that I had to learn when I came over to Avalara and really, that is just the indicator as the threshold of whether or not you need to collect and then remit sales tax, depending upon the amount of sales that you do in a particular jurisdiction, or a state in our case.  But, globally, you know, they're referred to as jurisdictions.

But in June of 2018, when the waiver decision was passed, really, the prior rule was, if you had physical presence in a particular state, then you had to charge and collect sales tax, otherwise, you didn't have to worry about it. And, you know, if you're operating a digital business, most, you know, most companies particularly small, direct to consumer e-commerce sites, you ordinarily wouldn't have a physical presence other than where you're located.

But now, it's really based on this, all these differentiating rules by state of how much sales you actually do in that particular state. So, not where you're physically located, but where your buyers are located and how much they're buying from you. And so that's like one attribute. But there's other attributes around where your product is stored.

And so, you know, listening to your podcast this morning on Omni channel and marketplaces, that's a big deal because all of us, you know, all of us in the e-commerce space, realize the importance of being where the consumer is and so you wanna participate in all these other channels. And as a result of that, in a marketplace, this is another dimension, you have to worry about, where your product is fulfilled from. So if you participate in [Amazon] Prime, that's another rule that you have to implement. And so, it's really become quite complex and you know, meeting and speaking to a lot of merchants and retailers, I really appreciate how hard this is for them to layer in on top of just growing their business and worrying about, you know, their products and sourcing products and supply chain. Now, this is another element that they have to, to really address and worry about.

Nora: Yeah. And it's so, I mean you said how complex it is, because the method that people have to follow now it used to be so simple. We used to recommend pretty confidently back in the day that you just had to base it off of your own, you know, local jurisdiction and-

Meg: Right.

Nora:  ...we're in Milwaukee and so some of our clients are. Milwaukee has the highest tax rate in the state. And so that was a really easy, safe thing for us to recommend to people. And then, yeah, Wayfair versus South Dakota really (laughing) blew things up!

Meg: Yeah.

Nora: It became a bit of a no man's land, because I think that local legislation is sometimes still catching up, right?

Meg: Exactly, exactly. And, you know, the state adoption of economic nexus has continued to roll out since 2018. And also, what's referred to as these marketplace facilitation laws. And so really, what that is, is, you know, previously, all of the sellers on our marketplace had to figure out what do I have to charge per sales tax, and layer that into your marketplace feed. And now, the states have said, I don't wanna have to be worrying about collecting sales tax from hundreds of 1000s, or millions of small sellers that are selling on these channels. Now, you marketplace, you have to figure out the right tax, you have to make sure you're collecting that tax inside of the transaction, and then you have to file and remit and you're liable for the accuracy of that tax on behalf of your community of sellers.

And so, you know, that started out as a few states in 2018 and then in 2019 more states and since joining Avalara in the middle of 2019, I think there was like 20 or 22 states that had adopted it, and a lot of the marketplaces were like, "Well, you know, which path should I go? Should I just start anticipating that I'm gonna have to collect in all of them? Or should I collect in some and then have the sellers figure out the complexity of which state they're in and when they're gonna have to collect versus me and when they're gonna have to file versus me?" And it was tricky. And now, you know, we're up to 45 states.

So pretty much all the states have followed this path, and it's, I guess, it's a bit easier in terms of not having to split the rules, but it's a lot and it's constantly changing. And, you know, as an example, you mentioned Wisconsin. So they just remove their transaction threshold. And so, you know, some rules, some states, they'll change the amount, they'll change it from, you know, 500,000 to 100,000. They'll, they'll change it from 100,000 to zero. And so, if you're not paying attention to that, then, you could just simply get it wrong. And that's where, I just don't know how any business nowadays can function without automation and technology. It's just far too complex.

Nora: Yeah, absolutely. And, let's talk a little bit more about what that technology provides. So what is a platform like Avalara, providing for an e-commerce retailer, what are their alternatives, if they're not using a platform, like Avalara? 

Meg: All right. So I think the first is, you have to figure out like where you have to collect, right? And, so there's this whole process of, okay, looking at your business and then assessing, where do I have to be registered in the states and start to collect sales tax and remit sales tax? And so, all those different thresholds. And so, you go all the way upstream before you even you know, start transacting your business. And I've spoken to, you know, many retailers, and it's shocking how many realize they're not doing it, right. Like, and these are pretty large retailers, I was speaking to a woman -owned business about sales tax a couple months ago, and they're doing well over 2 million in sales annually and she's like, “I haven't started collecting sales tax yet." And I'm like, "Oh, my gosh." (laughs).

Nora: Oh, no. That probably just made your heart think, right?

Meg: I was like, "Okay, so first, you have to go through like the registration process and then inevitably, likely some voluntary disclosures, because you have to go back and do some corrections or some catch ups." And so, Avalara has a whole bunch of managed services that will do that. And then we have registration services that will get you registered in each of the states and handle all that paperwork for you, and do all that digital processing for you. So that's the first step that a company like Avalara can support. And then, once you realize where you have to collect, then now you're transacting. And so, we work with, as I mentioned, we work with a lot of different platforms, e-commerce platforms. And so, platforms of all sizes, so whether that's Salesforce or Magento, for large retailers, or Shopify and BigCommerce, we have these plugins, and so we're providing the calculation.

So, when your site is able to figure out, okay, you know, where's that product category? What do I have to charge, where's it going, all those complex rules, all of that is addressed inside of our calculation technology in some of these platforms. And so, you don't necessarily have to worry about integrating directly with Avalara, you could just activate the tax calculation capabilities inside of your e-commerce platform. And so, that's, that's the good news is that you just have to make sure that those rules are set up correctly. And it's calculating when it should be eligible, when it should be applied those different products, and then it's being collected the way that it should, depending upon if it's a marketplace, or it's your own website. And so that's really what Avalara does, is we help sort out the ... making sure you're set up, making sure your catalogue is set up so that you know when to collect tax, and how much it should be, all the rules are set up in your platform.

Then ultimately, once you have collected tax, then you have to figure out well, what do I do with this money. And that's where there's a whole returns and compliance set of services that we offer. And, and so things like, I have to now send the check to the different states, we have ways with which, we can either give you those instructions, or we can remit the funds on your behalf, there's the actual filing of the returns. And it's all automated. So, all of the data that's sitting inside of your, your system can just be automagically, (laughs) you know, pulled to get these returns filed. And so you remit the right amount of money and all of that is automated. So, we work with customers of all sizes, you know, huge retailers, large marketplaces to very small startup companies that are trying to make sure that they're compliant. And, there's a lot, there's a lot to really worry about.

Nora: Yeah. And it isn't what people, you know, I don't think that people who are looking to sell online, whether you're an entrepreneur or moving maybe from manufacturing into direct to consumer, that's not why you're doing it, to deal with all this tech stuff. This is, a level of expertise that even if you have a really trusted tax professional you've been working with for many years, they may not know all the complexities of the 50 states and beyond, right? 

Meg: Exactly.

Nora: So I think that's the power, too, of technology like this. You can trust that you're staying up to date across these vast different jurisdictions.

Meg: Right, right. And if you think about, you know, the inherent growth of e-commerce, and listening to your podcast the other day on Marketplaces and Omnichannel, that's what we're all striving to do is ultimately grow your business and how do you do that? You can't just stay stagnant and sell only on your own website, you have to put your product out on all these other channels. And so inevitably, by doing that, you're triggering all these, these sales tax compliance requirements. 

So that's a whole other layer of, "Wow, now I've got products in different states, I've got these different channels, now I have to figure out the aggregate amount of my sales, not just my own website, but across all these channels." And then, now because you're open for business domestically, anywhere, you're really open for business internationally. And so you've got an international consumers that inevitably will find you whether they're finding your product on a marketplace, or they're finding them on your own website. And so that's a whole other, area that merchants are thinking about, “how do I make sure I'm doing that and, and compliant along the way?”

Nora: Yeah. I also wanted to circle back real quick, I didn't realize that the tax collection baked into Shopify is powered by Avalara.  Am I getting that correct?

Meg: Yeah. So we've been working with Shopify since 2015. Shopify has two tax options. They have their native engine that they develop, and that they manage and maintain. And so, that's primarily the tax option for Core. Now, if you're a Shopify Plus merchant, you have the option to have advanced tax capabilities, which is Avalara. So, if you're on Plus, as you set up your admin console, you can either choose to use the Shopify native engine, or you can opt in for Avalara. And so, with that, you get all these other capabilities. So as an example, the ability to do returns filings and remittance, and different levels of reporting, and then, you know, things like connecting to your ERP. So if you have QuickBooks or an accounting software, those other plugins to make sure that your data ties out, that isn't available through just the core option within Shopify.

Meg: And so, Shopify Plus merchants generally have more advanced needs and even this applies to Core merchants, too. And so, you know, we've been talking to Shopify quite a bit, and they recognize that, because tax has gotten so complicated, regardless of size, that, they really have to start thinking about how do they provide some of these other necessary elements to more merchants?

Nora: Yeah. That's great to hear. And Shopify has just rolled out some other really attractive features in the last few months. So, you know, they're really investing clearly in making their platform as attractive as possible, continuing to offer new features. It's great to hear that they're continuing to expand on some of these more technical tax things as well.

Meg: Yeah.

Nora: We love Shopify, so… (laughs).

Meg: We do too! We love our friends at Shopify. And, they're also trying to sell things for international too. So they're, they're thinking about their US merchants that are trying to export into the UK. So, you know, there's a lot between Brexit and other e-commerce VAT reforms that are happening over in Europe that are really affecting a lot of their merchants. And so, they're trying to solve for that and they're terrific partners.

Nora: That's, that's great to hear, that it's a good partnership on that end, as well. So, let me ask you a little bit about the complexity of, so, I'm a manufacturer and maybe I'm selling through distributors, and I'm, I'm starting to think about direct to consumer. That's a lot of our clients, that's how they're getting started. So they already have processes in place for the way that they're distributing and collecting taxes from that perspective. And maybe they don't have to collect taxes depending on what the product is, but now they're looking at direct to consumer. What are some challenges in that arena? Or that you've seen, you know, mistakes made maybe?

Meg: Yeah. So I think as a manufacturer, you would assume they're mostly B2B, right? And so with B2B, you have different tax rules and most exemptions would apply to a B2B business, because you're not directly selling to a consumer, you're selling to a retailer who then is, is reselling it. And so there's a lot of different exemptions that would apply in that transaction. Once you go to direct-to-consumer, that's where, there's different rules around when to collect, how much to collect and that sort of takes us back to the first step of the journey to assess, where do I have nexus? When do I have to start charging, if I look at, where the products are being shipped from the value that's being ordered within each state, all those different complex rules have to be considered versus just, assuming that it's tax exempt, which is a terrific thing, it makes life a lot simpler.

Nora: Sure.

Meg: And so, now as a direct to consumer website, realizing all those rules around nexus, that's sort of the first step, and then assessing, okay, am I just gonna have my own website? Or do I want to participate in marketplaces and other channels? And so, really that's almost become table stakes, Nora. For you to have a successful e-commerce business, I know you guys were discussing this the other day, and Amazon is kind of foundational, Amazon is sort of the starting point but there are so many marketplaces. We work with over 230 marketplaces today. And, you'd be surprised at how many transactions are happening on very small marketplaces that ordinarily, wouldn't be top of mind.

So you know, 1stDibs is a partner of ours, and 1stDibs sells high-end jewelry, furniture, and artwork. They just happen to have a niche there. So if you're looking for those types of items, going to a specialty marketplace is important. And as you transition your business from being a manufacturer, to being direct to consumer, the complications around assessing what your tax obligations are vary depending upon the channels that you're also gonna be participating in. All that has to be layered in.

Nora: Yeah. I think we've really hammered home the importance of this, but, what, what does it take for me to get started with Avalara? What do I need to bring, how can I prepare for getting started? How much information do I have to have up front?

Meg: As I mentioned, we work with merchants of all sizes. Generally, we'll do an assessment, and we'll help walk you through that process of, here's all the things that you need to know, which is essentially your order data. So, how much are you selling today? Where are you selling your products? You know, there's a set of questions that we'll go through. And then depending upon that nexus outcome… And we also have a free tax assessment tool. We always recommend everybody just go there first, and you can, you know, a bit of a self service. So you can go in and complete this on your own and then there's a report that will come back and say, "Okay, based upon what you just told us, here's where you likely have sales tax requirements and obligations." And so you can start there.

Then getting registered would be the inevitable first step if you're not already.
And then at that point, just making sure that you've got everything set up in your ecommerce platform, and then assessing where the other connections might be. So if you've got an accounting system, or if you have other systems that need to tie out, if you think about you're charging sales tax upfront at the point of checkout, and then you're creating maybe an invoice or you're creating something that is post checkout, those two tax amounts need to match, they have to reconcile. So, it is optimal to have the sales tax engine be the same and wherever your sales tax amounts are being calculated out of your QuickBooks system or so forth, that that should match whatever was quoted at the cart. And so, that's usually where you would wanna make sure end to end, all those different calculations are lined up.

And then figuring out if you wanna be able to file on your own, which a lot of people do, it's certainly easy enough to ... it's on Amazon, it's easy, but it's possible, depending upon how many states that you have nexus in to, to remit the dollars directly and to do the paperwork directly, or if it's a lot of states, then taking advantage of a technology option. And so that's really business dependent. 

And how your business grows and figuring out "All right, is this reasonable for me to take on and tackle on my own? Or should I, should I try to, get some technology tools to help me out?"

Nora: Well, and I think it's interesting that, you know, you can do it on your own, which is probably using your tax professional that maybe you've had a relationship with or having it goes through the technical side of Avalara can help enable that. But, you know, if there's additional costs for going through Avalara, you might want to consider comparing what the cost is for the billable rates of your accountant, right, like, we've found in some cases that you end up saving money across the board, when you're using automated solutions for things like tax reporting needs.

If you have a really robust tool, you don't need to rely on human power to do that. At first glance it seems like an additional cost, but it might be a wash in the end.

Meg: I agree. I think that's good math to do for your business. Particularly if your business is growing, is figure out how much you are outsourcing with an accountant and paying that accountant in the billable hours and then figuring out, okay, if I were to just employ some simple tools and technology, which are super intuitive and easy to use, what's that cost savings? And particularly as your business grows, those billable hours will grow, but your cost of technology should stay pretty fixed. And so that's the other consideration, which is not just what you spend today, but what your ambitions are over the next 12 months and so forth, and how those costs might continue to deviate.

Nora: Yeah, absolutely. So, I do wanna acknowledge that there are other tax technology platforms out there. We’ve interfaced with others over the years. From your perspective, what do you think people should be looking for when they're shopping around for this? I feel like Avalara, I feel confident saying it's our first recommendation to clients. Partly that's because of your expertise. But it's also that we have a familiarity with it from a development standpoint. We know how to integrate when we're building something more custom where we have to do an integration. 

So that's helpful, but we're certainly trying to be agnostic, and follow our clients to the solutions that they choose for their business. What should our clients, or people listening, be asking for from their partner? Or maybe they're listening to this and thinking "Oh, I don't know if I'm getting as much as I thought I was on my tax technology partner." What do you think they should be looking for?

Meg: Yeah. And you're right, there's always options. It's always good to do your research and to evaluate what you need for your business and, and what those different alternatives out there can provide. And I go back to what do you need today versus what are you going to need in the next few years because you don't want to be swapping out technology. I mean, that's just disruptive and it's just another task you have to take on when you want to be focused on growing your business, not the taxes. I used to say, tax is like swapping out your roof. Like you don't wake up every day and say like, "I need a new roof top for my house. (laughs) You know like it's just, it's so essential, but it's not that exciting that you want to have to keep thinking about.

Nora: I just got a new roof very recently, so-

Meg: Oh, did you?

Nora: I can attest to that, it's…every once a while I drive up the house and I tell myself "Look how nice that roof looks." But it's not the same as the new kitchen I'm hoping to do next (laughs).

Meg: Exactly, exactly, like the kitchen, the new patio, like, those are projects, you get a lot of joy out of, the roof really isn't. And so, you don't wanna have to revisit that roof every year 'cause it's expensive and it's not that exciting. And, so, you know, with tech, with tax technology, it's really looking at, where are you in your business lifecycle? What do you need to solve for today? But then where are you going? Like, are you intending to sell on a lot more channels? Are you intending to sell cross border? Do you think that you might need exemptions, because you might be going wholesale at some point. And so, you think about the breadth of Avalara, Avalara has so many different services around compliance, and that's where you've almost got a one stop shop. And there are other providers that have wonderful technology too, it just serves a different need. And so if you just need that returns option, great, if you need something that's just servicing one element, then that's what you should be considering, right? And, and so it's really around breadth of how much, how much you want to solve for how you can maybe grow your business with one particular provider or one integration, that you can just add other services as you go.

And then, the simplicity and intuitive nature of how to work with a particular company. I know with Avalara, we've been investing a lot in new user interfaces, and reporting and tools, and we have over 1000 different integrations. So every single technology that you might ever need for your e-commerce business, we're likely working with today, or will be in the future. You don't have to worry about another integration to that provider, there's just an Avalara plugin, and all your data will be synchronized. Those are attractive features for a lot of merchants that are trying to grow their business to say "I don't wanna have to have multiple different integrations, and then I don't have parity with my data, and I got one stop shop." So I think that's been very appealing to a lot of different clients of ours.

Nora: Yeah. And we talk a lot on the podcast, and with our clients about balancing using the right tool for the job with simplifying and you can often find, organizations have really cobbled together different tool sets over time. 

Meg: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nora: Because maybe there wasn't an option available that was more robust when they got started. Or you've got somebody who's coming in to the organization with a clear point of view because of their background working with another set of tools somewhere. Or it's just sort of “this is the way it's always been.” So I do think it's important to step back and do an assessment. You don't want to replace that roof every year but every once in a while you gotta check for leaks.

Meg: Yeah.

Nora: We love a good analogy around here at Lightburn. And so (laughs) ...that’s a good one. I may borrow it in the future. But you do want to balance, you don't want to be constantly changing things. But you do need to step back and say, "Is there a better way? Has the technology changed and grown in a way that's going to be easier for me to use and also more cost efficient?" Right?

Meg: Exactly. Exactly.

Nora: I think it's unfortunate that nobody's excited to collect taxes and report on them. That's not the most exciting part of, of e-commerce. But it is essential. To get the peace of mind that it's done correctly and not something that you as a non-expert have to worry about is such a relief.
I wonder if you have any stories, success stories or case studies, where clients really saw the value of using technology like Avalara. 

Meg: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I think it's well said, that peace of mind. Tax isn't something that you want to have to wake up every day and worry about. Or if you're a small business to employ a full time staff member to focus on that. It can be expensive, and having that peace of mind and knowing that it's right. I mentioned that woman-owned business that I spoke to, and I can sense that she was really stressed out about that, like, "I know, I haven't been collecting tax." And the reality is states are still catching up and so, a lot of states are just…they don't have the horsepower to follow through on all the business collections. And so, there's still loopholes, inevitable loopholes in the system. I think there are definitely still merchants that are able to maybe not charge tax or not necessarily be accurate in how they're charging tax. And is okay for the time being, but, you know, particularly coming out of COVID, there's a lot of states that are going to be looking to recoup that tax revenue.

Nora: Absolutely.

Meg: And so what we've been hearing through our contacts within each of these jurisdictions and these tax locales is that they are intending to make that an area of focus. And so, tax collection, and tax revenue is a big opportunity for them. It’s going to become more governed and regulated. Getting ready for that is something that we've definitely been advising folks to make sure, if you've been getting away with it, for now, it might have been okay, but make sure that you recognize this is gonna start becoming more enforced. In terms of storyline, we work with a lot of marketplaces, and these other marketplaces are just so appreciative that they have this technology. I mean, it’s heavy lifting, particularly if you've got a large business and you're playing catch up a bit, but, you know, for them to be able to say, "All right, I now want to be able to calculate duties and taxes, all in one cart experience, I can figure out through, you know, IP, where they're coming from, are they domestic or international, and then serve up a different experience.

So, if they're international, at that point, I can calculate duties and taxes, and the right shipping amount, and all of that experience is preserved as opposed to, they get all the way through the cart, then they realize, "Oh, hang on, you know, you might have additional fees after it gets delivered." And, then you have to deal with merchants have either bad seller ratings, the consumer at the other end, had these fees it didn't expect, or they just don't accept the shipment at all. And so it's sitting in some customs locale internationally and it's got a return tag on it. So you're have to eat the cost of bringing it back because the consumer said, "I don't want to pay the extra $30 or $40 of customs, because I didn't know that was gonna be applied.”

Nora: Oh, wow. Yeah. I didn't even think of that, where that can lead you, the sort of bad customer experience side of things. Wow.

Meg: Yeah. Sure, domestically, there is some, what we called kind of drift, which sometimes what you see in the cart is estimated, and then what you actually you will charge on your credit card statement might be a little different. But most consumers, you know, if it's off by pennies you're not gonna be paying that close of attention. But at international transactions, it can be very significant. And so you could order a $100 item, and then between that, and duty, it could be another $50 or $60. And so, if you don't know that, at the time of purchase, you've spent all this time shopping, you pick it out, you check out, you're waiting for it to arrive, which inevitably, they hate waiting for, that's what gets back to our shipping and logistics offices.

Domestically, you get that much faster. But internationally, it's just hard to get it there, you know, within two or three days, so you're generally waiting five to, to eight days. And by the time it arrives to realize it has this assessment on it. Usually, they'll knock on the door and say, "Hey, here's your shipment, oh, by the way, you owe this additional amount." And, and you know, that always leads to a poor experience. And many times that consumers will just reject it and say, "I don't want it anymore." And then you as the retailer, like okay, either you say just leave it and you abandon it, um-

Nora: Oh, no.

Meg: ... or you have to pay to bring it back.

Nora: Yeah. So, definitely, like, that's two strikes, right? You've got this product that you have to deal with, and you've just lost a customer.

Meg: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And if they then go online, because nowadays, you know, the forums for online reviews, negative reviews really hurt.
Nora: Indeed, yeah. I love that you've taken it to this place beyond what…I thought I knew a lot about (laughs) the ins and outs of why tax technology is so important, but, you've just added a whole other layer. Um, so that's-

Meg: Another dimension. Yeah. Another route. 

Nora: I love getting the chance to learn new things doing this podcast. So, do you have any other closing thoughts here, any takeaways that you'd like our listeners to think about when it comes to tax technology?

Meg: I would just say that tax is something that if you can outsource it, and you can leverage automation, it just makes your life so much easier. And so having to worry about the rules and worry about all of the variability of, when do I charge? When do I collect? What channels, what's the impact of selling on channels? I mean, having been in this space for 20 years, and only in tax, the last two, I look at the impact, the complexity of tax and think I just would never want to handle that on my own, I would want to have some level of easy technology that I can just say, "Just deal with that and focus on the other parts of the business that are equally hard, but really impactful like shipping and marketing and all these other elements that are exciting, but I think are much more impactful in terms of growing your business as opposed to just making sure your business is running and doing what it needs to do to be compliant.

Nora: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Meg, it's really been a pleasure speaking with you today.

Meg: Likewise.

Nora: I appreciate your time. And, and you've just provided so much in depth knowledge on this topic. It isn't an easy one, but you've certainly given some food for thought and I hope some good ideas for our listeners and our clients.

Meg: Great. Well, I hope so to Nora and I really appreciated it. 

- - - - - - 

That's our show for today. Thanks again to Meg Higgins of Avalara for joining me. To find out more about Avalara's tax solutions for businesses of all sizes, visit And tune in to the next episode of Beyond the Cart for a conversation all about customer service. 

Beyond the Cart is produced by Lightburn. Our episode today was edited by Ryan Dembroski. Our music is the song, Let's Go Go Go by Tigerblood Jewel.

Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you consume your audio. You can always learn more about ecommerce at

We'll see you next time on Beyond the Cart. 

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