Sales Tax Fundamentals
Get up to speed on the basics of sales tax
Unicorns are real.
Ok, maybe they’re not real real. But Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn does exist, because thousands of people have bought its namesake handmade stoneware mug from the unique online marketplace Uncommon Goods.
Since its founder Dave Bolotsky visited a craft show in 1999 and thought it would be a great idea to connect makers with shoppers, Uncommon Goods has existed as a beacon for handpicked gifts just like Elwood, all of which are designed to surprise and delight.
Elwood is made from “clay and fairy dust,” according to the company. Everyone’s favorite mug-based unicorn holds 12 fluid ounces of coffee and tea, is a bit pudgy, has miniature legs – and over the years it’s been a popular item for the e-commerce brand.
And it’s not just crafts. There’s plenty of other goodies available on the store, including popular gifts like a custom book of all The New York Times front pages on your birth date through the years, and even online experiences with experts, like learning how to make chocolate truffles in two hours.
Uncommon Goods faced a common problem with other retailers in 2018 – the Supreme Court ruling South Dakota v. Wayfair, which required online retailers with economic nexus to collect sales tax from buyers in that state, even if the retailer had no other presence in the state. (For example, a merchant achieved economic nexus if they exceeded a certain amount of revenue or a number of transactions in that state. You can learn more about economic nexus here.)
Courtney Costello, the company’s Lead Product Manager, said that things changed quickly after the ruling, when states lined up to create tax thresholds. “We really only collected tax in a small handful of states up until that point in 2018,” she said. “I don’t think it was very onerous. But once South Dakota vs. Wayfair hit and all the states started rolling in, we knew we needed a solution. That’s where we started our evaluation of TaxJar.”
At the time, Costello said Uncommon Goods was utilizing another sales tax platform’s product, which she described as “expensive,” and not fitting their developing needs. When the company brought on TaxJar as a sales tax solution, things changed for the better.
TaxJar delivers clear documentation, top-notch customer service
Many retailers like Uncommon Goods utilize TaxJar’s custom API as a means to calculate sales tax on purchases with rooftop-accurate rates, which means calculations based on your customer’s state, county, city, and special jurisdiction.
But not all APIs are the same. “We looked at your API documentation with our developers, and I think it was more modern and clear, and easier to work with and maintain,” Costello said. “That’s a big reason we chose TaxJar.”
Even seasoned developers can use assistance during a custom integration to ensure everything is configured properly. That’s why TaxJar provides customers with an onboarding specialist, along with a product plan to help expedite the onboarding, configuration and education of your TaxJar account. This was especially helpful for Uncommon Goods. “Back in the start of the implementation, we had to work with you on specific scenarios, and TaxJar was very accommodating with that,” Costello said.
Saving time manually filing with AutoFile
When Uncommon Goods signed up for TaxJar, it was to take advantage of the real-time sales tax calculations and the custom integration. But as the company grew, their needs changed as well. “When we first started using TaxJar, we weren’t using AutoFile, and manually filing was a big time suck for our finance team,” Costello said.
AutoFile automates sales tax filing and remittance by using data from your company’s e-commerce platforms and ERPs to prepare and submit an accurate return. As Uncommon Goods grew and gained economic nexus in more and more states, the idea of manually filing returns regularly in many states became a huge challenge. “AutoFile was the biggest help for our finance team,” Costello said. “It was a lot of work once we got up to 30-35 states. That was eating up a big chunk of their time.”
How Uncommon Goods chose the right sales tax platform
When Uncommon Goods began using AutoFile, there were no worries about missing a deadline or having inaccurate returns. And it saved hundreds of hours of work the finance team would’ve had to do on their own. “I imagine it saved the finance team a couple of days up to a week per month filing in about 30-40 states,” Costello said, noting that they’ve added about 10 states even since they signed up for TaxJar a couple years ago. “We’re filing monthly in most states.”
Retailers know that there are options in the sales tax compliance space, but that selecting the right brand can be difficult. “My general philosophy with vendor assessment is that going with the biggest name is not generally going to get you the most bang for your buck,” Costello said. “It’s more about thinking about what the vendor’s willing to work with you on.”
TaxJar worked with Uncommon Goods on a custom API that fit their needs, and after the company gained more customers in more states, it began using the power of AutoFile to file and remit sales tax to 30+ states. Whether your company sells unicorn mugs or SaaS, TaxJar can help automate your sales tax compliance.
“I imagine AutoFile saved the finance team a couple of days up to a week per month filing in about 30-40 states."