E297: Joining the Fight for Seller Rights with Online Merchants GuildJanuary in Ecom-Crew-Podcast
Happy New Year to all of our listeners out there! For today’s episode of the Ecomcrew podcast, I have a chat with Paul Rafelson about the Online Merchant’s Guild and any updates that came to fruition within the last year. Other than that, we go over various topics that will definitely interest online sellers within the US such as several tax issues, why you should join the Guild, and the influx of China sellers within Amazon.
If you’re new to the podcast and haven’t heard about the Online Merchant’s Guild, it is a non-profit organization that gives sellers the opportunity to voice out their concerns on various legal issues, with an aim to make the business climate better for online sellers, whether on Amazon or on their own Shopify site. In our last podcast episode with them, we talked about Sales Tax — why it’s such a complicated subject, the various states’ position on Sales Tax, and why it led to the birth of the Guild in the first place.
I highly encourage all of our listeners, whether you’re a seller on Amazon or on your own Shopify site, to join the Online Merchant’s Guild, because while we are used to solving various legal problems on our own, this is just something that we can’t do by ourselves; it will be costly and ineffective. We need to grow our strength in numbers and support each other to make this online business climate better for sellers.
As always, here are the topics that Paul and I go over with timestamps:
- Recap over the last year — (5:19)
- The Impact of the Online Merchant’s Guild — (7:56)
- The Issue of Back Taxes — (9:16)
- Income Taxes and the States that Enforce Them — (11:02)
- The Landscape of Taxes Today — (15:41)
- Why You Should Join The Online Merchant’s Guild — (19:31)
- Addressing the Influx of Chinese Sellers on Amazon — (20:19)
- The Promise of Online Merchant’s Guild — (25:06)
- The Guild is For Everyone, Not Just Amazon Sellers — (28:59)
- Aiming for Amazon Independence — (29:49)
Full Audio Transcript
Review: [00:00:00] Mike and Dave generously lay out their very real e-commerce experiences that almost every e-commerce entrepreneur has or will likely run into, both on and off Amazon. It’s like you’re sitting with them as they converse with very interesting people. There’s a lot to learn whether you’re thinking about starting your own e-commerce business or if you’re like me, running a tiny e-commerce site for 20+ years, Amazon free, by the way. Just start with one piece of advice and execute at your own pace. Hey, Mike, I hope to meet you at Seller Summit in Miami, says TonyE. TonyE, thanks so much for the review, we really appreciate it. And now on with the show.
Mike: [00:00:40] This is Mike and welcome to Episode #297 of the Ecomcrew podcast, and hello from Chiang Mai in Thailand and Happy New Year! First episode of 2020, pretty crazy. After a little break here, we’re back with the Ecomcrew podcast. Hope you guys had a great holiday season, for our part, we took a vacation, we checked out for a couple weeks. It was pretty amazing, travelled with some friends to Thailand and just had an amazing time, went to Bangkok, which is our first time in Bangkok and then out to Phucket for New Year’s with them and that was an amazing experience. Probably either my favorite or second favorite New Years ever.
Mike: [00:01:22] The New Years 20 years ago for me was always really cool. I was in IT and the year 2000 was coming and I was up in New York City watching the ball drop up there. So that one was a pretty cool New Years, its one of those things that’ll probably never be replicated. But besides that, man this New Years out here on the beach in Phucket was an absolutely amazing experience. People lighting fireworks on the beach and laying these lanterns and being with a bunch of friends and hanging out. Just absolutely amazing. Just an incredible experience. And just so thankful for everything we have going on. And also just able to check out and relax for a couple weeks, which I think is important to recharge the batteries. Just started talking to my team and saying basically haven’t even opened up the laptop in a couple of weeks. And that’s the first time we really had a vacation like this in many years. Usually we go somewhere and don’t really fully check out. But I just got full faith in my team to take care of things at this point and allow us to take the same type of vacation that we want them to all take, you know? So it’s just funny.
Mike: [00:02:19] You know, sometimes as entrepreneurs, you hold yourself to a different standard and we try not to bother our employees on nights and weekends and we want them to take vacations and to be able to fully check out on their vacations and something that we wanted to do ourselves. So now that we’re back at it, got a bunch of stuff to do here for the new year and these are episodes that I recorded last year. But getting the intros done now and today’s episode is gonna be about the Online Merchants Guild, brought Paul back on. It has been a long time since we had him on the podcast here, I did an episode about things that are going on with the Online Merchants Guild and sales tax and a bunch of other things that affect online sellers and just something be thinking about as we kick off the new year here. So hopefully, you guys will enjoy this episode, be thinking about all the accomplishments that have happened and all the things that we’re still fighting for when it comes to being an online seller. And it’s interesting to me that, you know, there still isn’t a force of an organization that helps online sellers like ourselves. And hopefully, you know, after listening to this, you’ll be motivated to join Online Merchants Guild.
Mike: [00:03:22] We made a $10,000 contribution to Online Merchants Guild to help get it started. And that was a couple of years ago now. And, you know, obviously, not everyone has that kind of money to be able to do that. But to me, it was just something where I felt like, spending that kind of money was going to be cheaper than fighting a lawsuit against the State. And hopefully progress will be made based on that contribution and everyone else that join. And it has made a big difference. But we need to be able to do more and we need to continue to get momentum there with the Guild. So anyway, listen to this episode, let us know what you’re thinking. Go to Ecomcrew.com/297 to get to the show notes for this episode. And right after the break, we’ll get into this episode with Paul.
Intro: [00:03:59] Welcome to the Ecomcrew podcast. The Web’s most transparent podcast, from two seven-figure sellers who share the good, bad and the ugly about running an e-commerce business. You’ll learn how we build our brands, find products and develop marketing strategies that will help you start and grow your own million dollar e-commerce brand. And now your hosts, Mike Jackness and Dave Bryant.
Mike: [00:04:24] Hey Paul, welcome back to the Ecomcrew podcast, man.
Paul: [00:04:28] Hey, thanks so much. I’m so happy to be back. It’s so great to have this moment at the end of the year and sit down, talk with you about what’s been going on. So no, thanks for the opportunity, it’s great timing.
Mike: [00:04:39] Yeah. I mean, we do our best not to have repeat podcast guests cause we like to have variety, but every now and then, there’s a situation where it makes sense. And this is definitely it. And we’ve done a couple episodes about the Online Merchants Guild in the past and it’s been way too long since we’ve done an update. And so we definitely wanted to update the audience what’s going on with Online Merchants Guild and the world of sales tax and just other tax issues. Within the US, things have changed dramatically since we last chatted. Maybe a couple wins that Online Merchant Guild’s had and things that they’re working on over there, along with some of the other things that are affecting e-commerce sellers like intellectual property and things of that nature and then, maybe some of those stuff from China, things like that if we have some time. So I guess to kick things off, maybe just a quick recap on what Online Merchant Guild’s been working on over the last year.
Paul: [00:05:25] Sure. So, again, thanks for bringing me back on and you know, I appreciate the opportunity to come on and like I said, I will commit to always bringing the fresh content. That’s what I can do. So Online Merchants Guild has had a busy year. We have been very actively lobbying in states like California, pushing for these states to adopt a marketplace tax law for Amazon. And so as of now, I believe there’s maybe six states out of 45 that don’t have this law. So by January 1, pretty much every state that we care about, with one exception being Florida, but we can get to that later, is going to have a marketplace facilitator law.
Paul: [00:06:05] So sales tax, if you’re 100% Amazon selling or eBay and Amazon or some mix of marketplace, we’re pretty much nearing the finish line of this whole sales tax compliance nightmare. But with that are other complexities and so we have to continue to work on policies around that. So the one that I’m sure everybody listening is probably very familiar is, you know, what about back taxes? And while there was at one point years ago, 20 odd states claiming every seller was back taxes, we’re really only seeing it now with California still who’s been leading the charge on that, even though they’re wrong. Washington state a little bit. Massachusetts has been aggressive to some of our members and some of my clients in the firm and a little bit of Wisconsin.
Paul: [00:06:49] But, you know, for the most part, states are passing these marketplace laws. They’re moving on. There’s still issues of income tax. And then I would say the other thing that we’re focusing on is for our members who, you know, they’re not just Amazon sellers, but they also have their own e-commerce site. And so there’s policy around that that we have to figure out where, you know, is 200 transactions really a workable threshold if you’re selling a $10 item? And you know, whether the Wayfair case actually said that you have to collect taxes in all 50 states or regardless of how you look at it, whether that’s appropriate. And should we be looking to Congress to basically intervene? So what we’re working on, driving e-commerce policy from a tax perspective, and it’s a slow process, but we’re doing it.
Paul: [00:07:34] We’re getting connected with various folks in Congress. We’ve been connected to some amazing e-commerce business owners who’ve been very vocal in helping us get connected to the appropriate people in Congress. And I’m optimistic that we can get there, especially the more we band together as a seller group and the more we can sort of grow this concept of having an online trade association of sellers.
Mike: [00:07:56] Yeah, and so to that I mean, like the last time we had you on marketplace facilitator tax was kind of like a pipe dream that was what we were trying to get to. And now it seems like it’s here in almost all the states. How much of a role do you think that Online Merchant’s Guild had playing in that?
Paul: [00:08:10] fulfilmentWell, I think in California, we definitely– I think we accelerated the timeline for sure, and I think in a number of other states we did it. I mean, we were pretty vocal about it from even before there was an Online Merchants Guild. I was working with multi-state tax commission and speaking to a lot of people about the need for these laws. So I think, you know, the timing of the California law in light of our sort of, initial attempt to make Amazon accountable for back taxes, which is something that we’ve also done through our firm, we’ve, you know, basically filed a lawsuit to sue the state for back taxes through California’s tax division for failing to enforce the back taxes.
Paul: [00:08:45] And so we’re currently in the middle of battling that out with Amazon as an interested party so we’ve basically filed our complaint and they’ve responded and we’re going through the process that you go through in any typical legal matter. So that’s currently undergoing. But I think that that pressure is key. And I think, you know, getting California certainly impacted it. But I think in 2017, early 2018, we were setting the tone that you need to get marketplace facilitator going by 2019 and I think it worked.
Paul: [00:09:12] I mean, I was really sad not to see it go through in Florida. And I still stand by the fact that if you look at any states law, you probably don’t need a marketplace facilitator law for Amazon. In fact, I pretty much know just about any state’s law, that’s the case because of the, especially for the fulfilment by Amazon piece, which is where the back tax issue tends to be affecting most people. And the fact of the matter is, when we’re representing clients and they’re trying to go after our sellers for back taxes, I mean, one of the constitutional law arguments they have is that sort of, you know, the ability to have a marketplace law prevents them from sort of holding five million individual sellers accountable from around the world. They have this ability to make Amazon accountable and that’s a lot less burdensome for businesses. So that’s what the states were required to do. So whether they pass a law or not, we stand by the position among many other legal positions that that was the only constitutional legal way that they could enforce the tax law.
Mike: [00:10:06] Yeah. You know, to a certain degree, I think you’re being a little humble in terms of the influence that Online Merchant Guild had. I mean, I remember some of those very early conversations we were having, which was basically so goes California, so goes the rest of the country. And while California wasn’t the first one to pass facilitator laws, once they did, like basically every domino came in place and Online Merchant Guild only has so much capital and budget to be fighting these issues. And that’s why the guild picked California as, kind of, the line in the sand to fight for?
Paul: [00:10:35] I appreciate that. Yeah, I tend to be humble. I just you know, there’s so much work to do. I don’t, you know, how to call it. So I appreciate that. Thank you.
Mike: [00:10:43] Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of like anything in entrepreneurship when you’re looking at it day to day. It never feels like anything’s happening in the moment. But I think again, since last time we had you on the podcast, I mean, the landscape is dramatically different. And, you know, Amazon is collecting taxes, they probably should have been all along on these sales and it’s significantly less burdensome for businesses. But now there’s like a new fight and you kind of brought up kind of anecdotally there. But the income tax portion of this is another like huge hair-pulling aspect to this. And so let’s spend just a couple minutes talking about that and what states are asserting, at least that sellers are supposed to do from this perspective.
Paul: [00:11:19] Yeah, so I mean, we’ve seen income tax pop up in sort of states randomly. Wisconsin, Indiana, Texas has a sort of what they call a franchise tax, which is a little different. But we’re seeing them pop up in states. We’re not seeing, you know, a mass assault on sellers like we’re seeing with the sales tax. But it’s definitely an issue. I was really happy. I saw Arizona issued some guidance and made the point that, you know, the mere use of an Amazon fulfilment centre probably doesn’t amount to nexus to begin with. So they did not see, you know, an income tax issue created by the mere use of fulfilment by Amazon.
Paul: [00:12:00] I actually think Texas is now maybe taking a position that they’re not going to apply the margins tax or the franchise tax to FBA sellers. So, I mean, I think we’re starting to see, you know, I think that issue still is in development. I will say this, though, it’s a lot less scary than sales tax. For one, income tax by definition is a tax on you, whereas sales tax is typically intended to be on the consumer and then you’re only responsible for it if you fail to collect it and you were legally required to. So what I kind of tell people is, you know, that the idea of income tax, it’s not like there’s something that you can necessarily do today that will, you know, remove the liability in the future.
Paul: [00:12:40] I mean, if you’re wrong, you know, if you take a no income tax position or you choose not to be registered in states to pay their income tax, which again, consult your tax advisers, consult me. I mean, but I’m not giving legal you know, we’re not giving legal advice over podcast. But there’s a lot of arguments why the income tax shouldn’t apply. But my point is, is that let’s say, you know, let’s say you get a bill from state Y saying you owe $10,000 of income tax, three years from now. Well, technically, there was nothing you could have done three years ago to avoid that tax if it were true. I mean, this isn’t something you could have collected from the customer and mitigated it. This is just tax. It’s like any other tax.
Paul: [00:13:18] Yeah, there’s interest and penalties now that you could have avoided if you had filed it on time and again, assuming for a second that the state is even right. And that’s something that can be negotiated in a settlement. You know, oftentimes. But I’m just trying to make the comparison to sales tax where it’s like 6, 7, 8% of your sales, having to pay that three years from now when you’ve had a couple million in sales for the last few years. That’s a much more painful situation. And also income tax is based on your income. So, you know, if you’re doing $750,000 a year in sales, if you’re doing a million dollars a year in sales and your net income is only $120,000 after all your expenses and we’re talking about then the state’s share of that income.
Paul: [00:14:01] So it’s not a big deal in term of the tax amount. So I’m not expecting mass paranoia. But for a number of people, it is crazy just cause they’re trying to figure out what it is they’re supposed to do and we don’t know. I mean, I know what I think is constitutional, but what I think and what the states think is often very different. And sometimes we have to weigh just having to fight the government versus the cost of complying with the government. But the cost of income tax is high. In fact, I often say to people that you could spend a thousand dollars with an accountant to file a tax return in Mississippi reporting $25, you know, or some minimum tax. You know, that’s how ridiculous it is and that’s part of the problem.
Mike: [00:14:37] Right.
Paul: [00:14:38] So we need laws and we need more stability and consistency. And we just need some resolution of this issue because and I’ll tell you, the people it’s hitting hardest are the e-commerce businesses who are non-FBA, you know, maybe doing a couple of million a year. They just really like they just recognized that their 50 state compliance bill has just gone way up. I’ve had some pretty well-known sellers, people that we all know, people that we’ve seen speak at conferences that have great e-commerce businesses and Amazon business like e-commerce, their own website, Shopify and Amazon. And unfortunately, these tax policies are driving them towards 100% Amazon. They figure if they can just fly under the Amazon radar, that might be better off, you know, the sales tax will be taken care of. And they’ll just deal with the income tax issue if it comes up. So, I mean, it’s affecting decisions, it’s affecting behaviour, and it’s making people less likely to want to just kind of have a go at it in their own independent Shopify world or, you know, e-commerce website world.
Mike: [00:15:39] Right.
Paul: [00:15:39] If that makes sense.
Mike: [00:15:40] Yeah. Makes perfect sense. So are there any other things that I missed in terms of sales tax and taxes in general that we haven’t covered so far and kind of where the landscape is today?
Paul: [00:16:27] So we’re still actively fighting. Like I mentioned before, we’re still actively fighting the sales tax issue in California. We’re fighting it from a state law perspective. There’s still constitutional law arguments out there that, you know, we’re prepared to make in another context. Problem is, we just haven’t had a good case. You know, sometimes to bring the right case, you need the right facts. You need the right setting. And I got to say, the states, some states have been very good at not sort of going far enough. California has done a lot of threatening, but not as many sellers get actual tax bills or do they call determinations from California that might warrant further intervention.
Paul: [00:15:51] So for example, if 500 sellers were to come to me and say, we all got a tax bill from California, this is crazy. That actually might prompt the response we need to go and then raise constitutional issues. But that is a separate issue. You know, we look at and to be very clear, our lawsuit against California about Amazon owing the tax has to be separate and distinct from the fact that regardless of whether the state law says you owe it or not, the Constitution says you don’t. And you know, that case was an easier case to bring, the case where we want to hold Amazon accountable.
Paul: [00:16:57] We’re tired. We are tired of them going after you. I mean, I see both sides of it. But there’s still more cases to bring out there if we need to do it. And part of I think where we’ve been is we’ve been in a very conserved– conservation mode, just kind of not really spending money on anything, not you know, we don’t see any reason to lobby in California. We’ve done what we can. We should talk about also, something I forgot to mention was AB1790, which was the first ever seller protection law which California passed, which is not a tax issue. But we should definitely come back to that because that was kind of cool. But my point is we’re sort of kind of just looking at the landscape, looking where things are going and kind of waiting to see what the next move is based on where we are from a resource perspective. And I’ve been using this time to figure out how we can grow as an organization and get a better connection to the seller community, because I think that’s something that I think I could do a better job.
Paul: [00:17:51] I think we could do a better job as a community of sellers, just kind of getting the word out about what is happening here and why we need to do this and we could talk about that more. What I like to do and as a lawyer, I like to take on legal issues. I like to fight. I like to push legislation. But definitely, as I sort of do an internal assessment at the year end, which is why its a great time to come on, I’m definitely noticing what are our weak points and that’s engagement. We have not done a great job there. So as we sort of wait and see, I’m looking for ways to get more people engaged in the organization so that we can take on more projects at once. But right now, because I’m just not sure where sales tax is going to go in terms of the back tax issue, we’re kind of in a holding pattern just waiting and seeing because I want to be ready for if you know, if Tax Armageddon happens with respect to back taxes, I want to make sure we’re ready to go.
Mike: [00:18:38] Right, and so maybe it’s a good time to make the sales pitch, I hate turning the podcast into a sales pitch thing. But nonetheless, I mean, Online Merchants Guild has a potential be like a very important organization within the entrepreneurial community for e-commerce. I mean, most other industries have a trade organization like this where there’s strength in numbers and it really helps bring a cohesive message from hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people that have similar interests to any type of situation, whether it’s a sales tax or antitrust issue or any type of legal issue and have their voices heard where on an individual basis, it’s very hard to do that. And Online Merchants Guild has done a great job in its early capacity with a lawsuit in California. And hopefully they’re definitely enacting change there. And I think there’s a lot more to be done. So, I mean, I’ll turn you into a salesman, Paul. What’s a good reason for people to go over to Online Merchants Guild.org and sign up?
Paul: [00:19:38] I’m gonna make two pitches, okay? And I don’t really consider them sales pitches because, one, our books are open. We’re in the process of finishing up all of our documents and filing for our official status. But our books are open. Our membership roles are certainly not open. We keep those very much locked tight because we know that privacy is very important to our members. But you can certainly, any member can see what we’re doing and what we’re up to. And we’re not shy about that. What the organization does, is it just spends money on the things that we think are most important for sellers to be successful. So our only mission is to make the business climate better for Amazon sellers, right. When you think about what’s going on in the world, you’ve got sellers in China who don’t have to play by the same rules as us. I mean, you want to know why we’re being completely overrun with sellers who are based in China. It’s because Amazon is basically bypassing every regulation that would basically be out there to protect consumers and that makes it really attractive to people in China.
Paul: [00:20:45] I was talking to a big product manufacturer maybe a month or two ago, and they’re saying that they can’t use certain chemicals in their products, obviously because of environmental laws. But they’ve got competing products being manufactured in China by a seller based in China and they’re using all of those chemicals because they knew the factory that they were working with. And we read about dangerous products. I mean, 1) it’s killing the reputation of the marketplace, 2) it’s allowing people to undercut us because they’re not playing by the same rules as us.
Paul: [00:21:15] We as US-based sellers, tend to take precautions naturally. One, because we know that living in America, we can get sued. But when you’re only in China and you’re just shipping a container of goods to the United States, I mean, there’s no chance anyone’s ever going to sue you and so there’s no accountability. And we see this, there’s a lawsuit going on in Pennsylvania right now, that’s looking into whether Amazon should be held accountable for this type of stuff. But regardless of what the answer is, I mean, the point is, is that the real reason this is happening is because Congress is asleep. They don’t understand what’s going on. They don’t know that there is this, entrepreneurial renaissance happening in America right now. And it’s all good stuff, except for the fact that it’s being destroyed because it’s also created an environment where millions of people in a foreign country can bypass every rule.
Paul: [00:22:04] So to make a long story short and again just as an example, we need to be out there telling that story and that’s the point of the organization is that somebody has got to speak from our perspective and tell Congress and two things; One, it can’t be me. One thing I’ve learned over the years since we started this thing, is Congress needs to hear from our members. They need to hear from members in their district. So we need more engagement from our members. I am also putting out an open call to people who want to be involved. We are looking for people, people who can help us push content, help us stay in contact with our members, because I’ll tell you, that’s what I do terribly.
Paul: [00:22:37] I’m not good at maintaining communication. You know, I have a law firm that I run. I’m constantly working on defending Amazon sellers and all sorts of legal matters. And it’s hard as a volunteer to just keep in constant contact, write updates, people who can help us with communication, people who can help us, people who want to be involved in politics. Maybe you have a thing for politics and that’s something that you want to get into. I mean, if you’re that person out there and you’re listening and you want to be part of this movement to really give the e-commerce community their own distinct voice, that’s not the voice of a multi-billion dollar company with their own agenda, welcome aboard, please.
Paul: [00:23:13] So my first pitch is to please join us and please help us and please reach out to me at [email protected] and let’s see what we can do. We need more engagement from the seller community. And yes, of course, we need to raise money. I’m looking at the anti-trust situation right now and I know that in addition to the House Antitrust Committee, who I’m in contact with regularly, following what’s going on there, the President of the United States is going to have his own investigation into Amazon. We need to have a voice in that. People think Amazon you know, holds all the cards. They’re the all powerful. There’s nothing we can do. There’s a lot we can do. Senator Blumenthal in Connecticut is trying to overturn arbitration, which is the biggest reason why Amazon can take advantage of us. So, I mean, we’re trying to push those agendas, but we need your help and we need to raise money and we need to be able to lobby effectively at the federal level. I think we need to have full time lobbyists engaged.
Paul: [00:24:05] And that’s, I’ll be honest with you, that’s probably about a $20,000 a month bill to do that right, with a good lobbying firm. And we need to be able to sustain that. We need to get to a place where we can sustain that. So we’re open to ideas. At the end of the day, the number one reason why you should join is because it’s your organization. You know, I’m trying to help get it off the ground, but I’d never see it as my organization. I think this is your organization. Its for you guys. It’s for everybody listening. For every business owner, for our Amazon seller, for every e-commerce business. This is your organization. You know, that’s what it’s meant to be. So help me take ownership of it. You know, I’m happy to do what I can do. But this should be a group effort. So get involved and be a part of it. And let’s really just change the way things are. Let’s change the status quo and actually try to level the playing field again and make it more fair so that we have a say and a voice and so that small businesses win because small businesses are what drive America and that’s what drives our country. So, I mean, it’s not a hard sell. We just aren’t doing it.
Mike: [00:25:04] Yup, so a couple of things, I took a couple of notes, just things that I wanted to mention, first of all, this is a non-profit organization. So I mean, you have not taken any salary compensation for doing anything up to this point. You know, it’s running on a shoestring budget and as you said, we really need $20,000 a month to hire a lobbying firm to be in DC and getting heard. And if there’s any one thing broken in American political system, it’s this. I mean, you got to have people that are there with attention and be able to be on the hill and garner attention. And there’s lots of things that happen in this country that aren’t even in the best interest of the constituents, but happen because of lobbyists and this is in the best interests of constituents. I like to think that with some good lobbying efforts. You know, things can change quite a bit. And, you know, this money is all going to that, it’s not going to pay, to make lawyers rich and all the things that people think that just have a bad taste in their mouth. You know, it’s even on the FAQ on OMG, so.
Paul: [00:25:57] Yeah. No. I mean, I have a law practice that is myself, my partners. We make money helping sellers and various things, and that is totally separate and distinct from this. I refuse to pay myself any compensation or anything from this thing because it’s just not the way it needs to be run. You know, I really stressed from the start that I didn’t even want to spend money on a good website. I don’t even want to spend money on, you know. Why don’t I just hire somebody to send emails out? Because I promised people that all the money that we would make, you know, minus the minor administrative things like paying for the website and paying for the hosting fees or whatever would go towards legal lobbying. That’s what my commitment was, is that we’re gonna go towards anything, the money is going towards the fight. And I think as a community, $20,000 a month sounds like a lot, but I actually think that across our community that shouldn’t be hard to raise. And I think the benefit from that is, you know, having somebody on the hill representing our voice, one, we have great content.
Paul: [00:26:58] I mean, the one thing I’ve realized is that we actually have really good content. We don’t need to spend half a million dollars or a million dollars or however much money Amazon spends on lobbying because our content is better. We have voters and we have small businesses, we have jobs and we have the great content. But we just need that little extra bit to get it messaged right, packaged right and communicated right so that we can use it to help drive the right legislative policies. You know on the front end, as opposed to waking up a few years from now and finding out that there’s this other law that’s now making it really difficult, right. I always told people, I mean, if we had an Online Merchants Guild or association of some kind 5 years ago, the tax issue never would have happened.
Paul: [00:27:42] There would have been somebody paying attention who would have been already lobbying to take care of it and I guarantee you, we would not be in that situation if we had a strong seller community advocacy group five years ago and that should be the lesson. And that’s what tax should be. It should be the lessons, whatever that is, whatever that threat is, whether it’s one day, it’s laws making it possible for you to do business in 49 other states because, you know, the regulations are out of control, whether it’s just the business landscape in general excuse me, whether it’s Amazon overreaching, other marketplaces overreaching.
Paul: [00:28:16] I mean, we can have a say in how this plays out and make it good again and get rid of a lot of the noise that we have to deal with on a constant basis with ridiculous suspension policies, holding your money. I mean, whatever it is, it’s all up for grabs. But we just got to do it. So if you’re that person listening and you’re like, you know what? It’s not– maybe you want to contribute money and I hope you do, because I think we should be able to accomplish this. And I’m open to more suggestions and ideas that maybe you’re that person who maybe does know how to rally sellers together right. We’re looking for you. We need that person or people, who can really– who sees this as an opportunity to really get everyone to band together. So if you’re out there, please contact us.
Mike: [00:28:59] And so the other thing that you mentioned, I just want to clear up real quick as well, you were just saying that this is better for Amazon sellers and the thing I want to stress here is that the organization is not just for Amazon sellers and advocating for that, it’s just basically online e-commerce sellers in general. And I know that this gets kind of thrown around synonymously sometimes because Amazon is such a huge part of the market. But there’s lots of people who don’t sell an Amazon and these issues are very important to them as well. You know, sales tax for online transactions affects anybody that sells online and the income tax part and also antitrust issues and intellectual property and all the things that Online Merchants Guild is working on. So even if you aren’t an Amazon seller, I mean, that’s the stuff kind of gets attached to that a lot of times. But the organization is still for you as well, regardless.
Paul: [00:29:46] Yeah, we’re absolutely an ecommerce organization, we’re not preferring Amazon. In fact, I think what a lot of what we aim for is one, Amazon independence. You know, the ability to be independent from Amazon, right. To be a successful e-commerce business. Like I was saying before, the way the tax policies are going right now with income tax and with sales tax, just tax alone and it’s not the only reason ecommerce companies are starting to say, you know what, I’m just going to have– my website is going to have links to my Amazon listings. I don’t want to deal with my own ecommerce processing and ecommerce fulfillment because of just the various legal issues that it creates. Better do it through Amazon, right. And that’s the wrong thing. We don’t want that. We want people to be independent. If you can be independent of Amazon, if you can be your own successful e-commerce site and have your own successful brand that can be successful both on Amazon and on its own, that’s a good thing, right.
Paul: [00:30:38] We want that. That adds value to our brands, if we can do that. So we’re all– we’re absolutely fighting for ecommerce as a whole. It’s just Amazon for many reasons just seems to be the big elephant in the room, and a lot of times the reason why we can’t be. I don’t think people realize there’s a lot of things Amazon does. If you take time to read what’s going on in the Antitrust World, I mean, there’s a lot Amazon does to make it really hard to be your own ecommerce business and from that perspective, we certainly want to challenge them on any area where that’s the case. We want a level playing field and we want you to have your own site with your own customers who you can market to just like any other retailer, actual retailer, not pretend Amazon retailer where you don’t actually have a customer.
Mike: [00:31:22] Right, yeah.
Paul: [00:31:24] You know, the actual retailers.
Mike: [00:31:26] Makes a lot of sense. Well, man, we always try to keep these to 30 minutes and we’re already around a little bit late. But before we hop off, you already mentioned your e-mail address again, but [email protected], OnlineMerchantsGuild.org and also www.OnlineMerchantsGuild.org if you are interested in learning more. There’s a huge FAQ section on the website as Paul said, we didn’t put a lot of money into the website. So it’s just kind of a basic WordPress site that helps get the messaging out there.
Mike: [00:31:53] And if you want to donate some money to help this cause, even if it’s just $100 or something, it makes a huge difference. I mean, remember the biggest thing, which is that there’s strength in numbers and if we can get to the point where Online Merchants Guild can say that there’s 10,000 members, even if they’re contributing relatively small amounts of money. It really helps get the strength in numbers equation answer for us and right now, the guild’s struggling with that. And I think that just going over there and becoming a part of the conversation can help. Nothing bad is going to come from this. It’s only good things from all of us. And I was using an analogy before we started recording with Paul that humans just kind of have a tendency to not think about things that are probably important in their lives until they become super important, you know, whether it’s health or other things that happen in your life.
Mike: [00:32:36] And I use the political example, I didn’t want to use it on the podcast, but basically until you have a letter from the State or there’s something on your doorstep, that’s something that you don’t think is important but the reality is, is that it’s super important. And if you aren’t helping be a part of that conversation now, then you’re not helping prevent that letter from ending up on your doorstep. And I think it’s super important long-term that ecommerce sellers get strength in numbers and get this weight behind us, just like basically every other industry that I can think of has. And we’re missing that representation. And there’s no one else out there still that’s trying to even attempt this fight. And Online Merchants Guild has made a lot of good headway and got hundreds of members already, and we want to make that thousands of members. And hopefully when we talk next, we can talk about it being tens of thousand members, so OnlineMerchantsGuild.org, go check that out if you want to just reach out to Paul directly and be a champion, you know, be someone that’s kind of an activist, if you will. [email protected] Paul, I’m gonna let you have the final word. Anything else you want to say before we wrap up?
Paul: [00:33:39] No, I thought that was great. Thanks so much for having me on the podcast again. It’s always great catching up. And yeah, I love what you said, be that activist. If you’re that activist, we love activists. We have a lot of members who are, we have members who do it. And to anyone who’s maybe hasn’t received as much email communication from us because like I said, we’ve kind of been in a holding pattern, waiting to see how things unfold. Volunteer to be our content developer. Volunteer to be our Mailchimp manager. You know, like we’re open for that. We want to get better as an organization. You know, like I said, I didn’t set out– I don’t run great organizations from that perspective, I need to help. I know the mission. I know that Congress wants to hear from us. They absolutely do and we need to get that message out there. And so please contribute. But do more than contribute, think about what is it that you can do to help take our organization to the next level, because we’re open to that help. We really are. This is your organization at the end of the day after all.
Mike: [00:34:36] Awesome. Thanks, Paul, really appreciate you coming on doing this again.
Paul: [00:34:39] Thank you again. Awesome catching up with you. Alright, talk soon, let’s see how it goes. Very exciting. Have a Happy New Year and holidays, everyone I hope you’re all crushing it for Q4. Is that the right term?
Mike: [00:34:51] Crushing it! Gotta crush it! (Laughs)
Paul: [00:34:53] Gotta crush it. OK, yeah. I hope everybody’s crushing it. OK. I’m glad I got that right. Although I think I sounded like an Instagramer or something.
Mike: [00:35:00] Nice. Thanks, man.
Paul: [00:35:03] Awesome. Thanks, Mike. Take care.
Mike: [00:35:05] Alright, guys. Hope you enjoyed the 297th episode of the Ecomcrew podcast. If you’re interested in Online Merchants Guild, again you can go to OnlineMerchantsGuild.org or you can leave a comment at Ecomcrew.com/297. Again, happy new year everyone. Hope you had a great New Year’s Eve, a great holiday season and that you’re ready to get back at it in 2020. It’s crazy. It’s 2020 already. All right, guys. That’s gonna wrap it up for this episode until the next one. Happy selling and we’ll talk to you soon.
Outro: [00:35:37] We hope you enjoyed this episode of the Ecomcrew podcast. If you haven’t done so already, please head over to iTunes and leave us a review. It helps more than you know. Did you know that Ecomcrew has a ton of free content, including ecommerce courses? Head over to Ecomcrew.com/free to check it out today. That’s going to do it for this episode of the Ecomcrew podcast. Until the next one, happy selling and we’ll talk to you soon.
Michael started his first business when he was 18 and is a serial entrepreneur. He got his start in the online world way back in 2004 as an affiliate marketer. From there he grew as an SEO expert and has transitioned into ecommerce, running several sites that bring in a total of 7-figures of revenue each year.