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I recently bought an item that was on sale for $300 from a nationwide retailer's website and was charged roughly 5% sales tax on the purchase. I'm not really sure where this number came from as the state and county combined rate where I live in Golden is 4.5%, but Colorado sales tax varies so much by jurisdiction that I can't keep track of the rates.

When the item arrived, I brought it to the retailer's local store (in Lakewood) and exchanged it for the identical item because the one I received showed signs of having been opened and used. The item was no longer on sale but the store honored the sale price I had paid and processed an even exchange - with the exception that I owed an additional $8.84 in sales tax. The total sales tax I paid in the end came to 7.93%, which is the rate for the store's jurisdiction.

Was this correct? I don't exchange items often so I'm not sure I've encountered this situation before and I didn't know enough about how it all works to object to paying the additional tax.

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  • This was an item you walked out of the store with, correct, and wasn't delivered (the second time)?
    – Joe
    Sep 24 '21 at 0:53
  • @Joe Yes correct, I walked in with the original item and left with the exchanged one.
    – Brian
    Sep 24 '21 at 3:20
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I'm not an expert in Colorado finance law, but what you described is consistent with what I'd expect from my background in retail, especially retail when crossing the "online" to "in store" border.

Stores typically have a choice of two options for how to handle this kind of exchange. They can handle it as a true "even exchange", where they just swap a box for another box and don't assign any dollar value to the transaction; or they can accept a return, and then process a sale using that return as the "funds". It seems like the latter is what they really did.

When accepting a return from an online purchase, though, I see even exchanges very rarely if ever. Many companies keep their online business separate from their in store business - sometimes technically a different company, in fact, but usually at least it's quite a bit separated. One common consequence of that is that, while stores will usually accept returns from the online version, they don't treat it as a return from an "in store" purchase - they treat it differently, and one result is something like this; they refund you the paid sales tax and then re-sell you the new item, at their own sales tax rate.

It does seem like they could have chosen to rung it this way - see the Colorado Sales Tax Guide, Part 3:

Under certain conditions, the fair market value of tangible personal property exchanged by the purchaser as part of a taxable sale is excluded from the taxable purchase price. The fair market value of the tangible personal property exchanged by the purchaser is excluded from the taxable purchase price, if either:

such exchanged property is to be sold thereafter in the usual course of the retailer's business; ...

However, it doesn't surprise me that they didn't.


Separately, it is correct that the online site charged one rate (the rate applicable to your home), and the store charged a different rate (the rate applicable to the store's location). Colorado uses destination source tax rates; basically, that means charge the tax appropriate for the delivery destination (for deliveries) and the rate for the store's location for in-store purchases. See Part 1 of the guide above for more details.

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  • This is an awesome answer. The receipt I was given for the transaction is labeled "exchange," but perhaps because the original product was previously used meant that they wouldn't be able to sell it afterward "in the usual course" of their business. Thanks!
    – Brian
    Sep 24 '21 at 14:46

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