Shopping for Lower Sales Tax Rates
67 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2017 Last revised: 14 May 2020
Date Written: April 20, 2020
Using comprehensive high-frequency state and local sales tax data, we show that shopping behavior responds strongly to changes in sales tax rates. Even though sales taxes are not observed in posted prices and have a wide range of rates and exemptions, consumers adjust in many dimensions. They stock up on storable goods before taxes rise and increase online and cross-border shopping in both the short and long run. The difference between short- and long-run spending responses has important implications for the efficacy of using sales taxes for counter-cyclical policy and for the design of an optimal tax framework. Interestingly, households adjust spending similarly for both taxable and tax-exempt goods. We embed an inventory problem into a continuous-time consumption-savings model and demonstrate that this behavior is optimal in the presence of shopping trip fixed costs. The model successfully matches estimated short-run and long-run tax elasticities. We provide additional evidence in favor of this new shopping-complementarity mechanism.
Keywords: shopping complementarity, consumer spending, intertemporal substitution, tax salience
JEL Classification: D12, D14, D15, D83, E21, G51, H21, H26, H31, H71
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation