Nexus Tax Laws and Economies of Density in E-Commerce: A Study of Amazon's Fulfillment Center Network
Jean-François Houde, Peter Newberry, Katja Seim. "Nexus Tax Laws and Economies of Density in E-Commerce: A Study of Amazon's Fulfillment Center Network." Econometrica, Vol. 91, No. 1 (January, 2023), 147–190.
We quantify the distortionary effects of nexus tax laws on Amazon’s distribution net- work investments between 1999 and 2018. We highlight the role of two features of the expansion of Amazon’s network: densification of the network of distribution facilities and vertical integration into package sortation. Densification results in a reduction in the cost of shipping orders, but comes at the expense of higher facility operating costs in more expensive areas and lower scale economies of processing shipments. Nexus laws furthermore generate additional sales tax liabilities as the network grows. Combining data on household spending across online and offline retailers with detailed data on Amazon’s distribution network, we quantify these trade-offs through a static model of demand and a dynamic model of investment. Our results suggest that Amazon’s expansion led to significant shipping cost savings and facilitated the realization of aggregate economies of scale. We find that abolishing nexus tax laws in favor of a non-discriminatory tax policy would induce the company to decentralize its network, lowering its shipping costs. Non-discriminatory taxation would also entail lower revenue, however, as tax-inclusive prices would rise, resulting in a fall in proﬁt overall. This drop and the decline in consumer welfare from higher taxes together fall short of the increases in tax revenue and rival proﬁt, suggesting that the abolishment of nexus laws would lead to an increase in total welfare.