Publication 109, Internet Sales

February 2020

Basic Internet Sales

Your business may be among the many businesses taking advantage of changing technology to market products over the Internet. Despite all the publicity surrounding Internet commerce, one essential fact that is often overlooked is that there is no general tax exemption for sales of tangible personal property (merchandise) made over the Internet (Internet sales). This publication is intended to help you determine if you must pay California's sales and use taxes on your Internet sales.

California sales and use tax

When does sales tax apply?

A sale occurs in the state where the merchandise is physically located at the time the sale takes place. California's sales tax is imposed on retailers and generally applies to their gross receipts from retail sales of merchandise in the state.

When does use tax apply?

A sale generally takes place outside of California when the merchandise is delivered to a common carrier outside the state for shipment to the consumer in California.

California's use tax is imposed on consumers. When sales tax does not apply, California use tax generally applies to the sales price paid for the purchase of merchandise from a retailer for storage, use, or other consumption in the state.

Therefore, California's use tax will generally apply when there is a retail sale of merchandise to a California consumer and the merchandise is delivered to a common carrier outside the state for shipment to the consumer in California.

California seller's permit requirements

Generally, a person who sells tangible merchandise in California and makes three or more sales in a 12-month period is required to hold a seller's permit. This is true regardless of whether the sales are at retail or for resale. When you are actively engaged in selling merchandise in California, even temporarily, you are required to register for a seller's permit with the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA), and report and pay tax to the CDTFA.

For more information, please see publication 107, Do You Need a California Seller's Permit?

Certificate of Registration—Use Tax requirements

A retailer who is engaged in business in this state selling tangible merchandise to customers for storage, use, or other consumption in California is required to register with the CDTFA for a Certificate of Registration—Use Tax, collect use tax from its California customers, and pay the use tax to the CDTFA.

In general, you are engaged in business in California if you are a retailer that:

  1. Owns or leases real or tangible merchandise, including a computer server, in California; or
  2. Maintains, occupies, or uses, directly or indirectly, or through a subsidiary or agent, a permanent or temporary office, place of distribution, sales or sample room, warehouse or storage place, or other physical place of business in California (whether or not it is related to your sales activities); or
  3. Has persons operating in California under its authority for the purpose of selling, delivering, installing, assembling, or taking orders for tangible merchandise; or
  4. Derives rentals from a lease of tangible merchandise (including vehicles, vessels, and aircraft) situated in California; or
  5. Beginning April 1, 2019, has total combined sales of tangible merchandise for delivery in California by the retailer and all persons related to the retailer that exceed $500,000 during the preceding or current calendar year.

For more information, please see Regulation 1684, Collection of Use Tax by Retailers, publication 77, Out-of-State Sellers: Do You Need to Register in California?, and our online guide Use Tax Collection Requirements for Out-of-State Retailers.

Internet sales

Internet sales are treated just like sales made at retail stores, by sales representatives, over the telephone, or by mail order. Therefore, your retail Internet sales that take place in California, or are for delivery in California, are generally subject to California sales or use tax, unless a specific exemption or exclusion applies (see the Nontaxable Sales tab).

Who is responsible for collecting and paying tax on Internet sales?

If you actively sell merchandise in California or are a retailer engaged in business in California, you are responsible for collecting and paying tax on your Internet sales. These include sales you make through Internet shopping platforms, Internet auction sites, and your own website (see the California seller's permit requirements and Certificate of Registration—Use Tax requirements sections).

This responsibility exists unless an Internet sale is made through a marketplace and a marketplace facilitator, as defined in the Marketplace Facilitator Act, is the seller and retailer responsible for paying or collecting tax on that sale. For more information on who is responsible for tax on sales facilitated through a marketplace, see the Online Marketplaces and Fulfillment Centers tab.

What is the use tax rate?

The use tax rate is the same as the sales tax rate for any given California location; please see California City and County Sales and Use Tax Rates. Transactions that are exempt from sales tax are usually exempt from use tax.

Internet auction sites

Internet auction sites generally provide an online site where sellers can list their merchandise for sale, seek auction-style bids, accept bids or other offers to buy their merchandise, and arrange for shipment of their merchandise to the highest buyers. The owners of Internet auction sites are not generally auctioneers that are retailers under Regulation 1565, Auctioneers.

Who was considered the retailer prior to October 1, 2019?

Prior to October 1, 2019, if you were making retail sales of tangible merchandise through an Internet auction site, you were generally considered the retailer of those sales. This was true whether you collected payments from the buyers, or a third party collected payments on your behalf. Also, if you were registered or required to be registered for a seller's permit or Certificate of Registration—Use Tax, then you were required to pay or collect and pay tax on your retail sales to California customers through an Internet auction site.

Who is considered the retailer after October 1, 2019?

Beginning October 1, 2019, a person meeting the criteria to be a marketplace facilitator and entering into an agreement to facilitate your sales of tangible merchandise through a marketplace, such as an Internet auction site, may be the retailer. As such, the marketplace facilitator is required to collect and pay the tax on your retail sales of merchandise facilitated through their marketplace.

You should contact the person operating the Internet auction site where you sell tangible merchandise to determine if they are a marketplace facilitator and are responsible for the tax on your sales made through their Internet auction site. For more information on who is responsible for tax on sales facilitated through a marketplace, see the Online Marketplaces and Fulfillment Centers tab.

District tax collection requirements

District taxes are voter-approved transactions (sales) and use taxes imposed by cities, counties, and other local jurisdictions. The base statewide sales and use tax rate is currently 7.25 percent. However, total sales and use tax rates are higher in areas where district taxes are imposed. In these areas, the total tax rate includes the statewide tax rate plus applicable district taxes.

District Sales Tax

District sales taxes are imposed on retailers. If you make retail sales in California subject to the state sales tax from a place of business located in a taxing district, that district's sales tax is generally due on your retail sales of merchandise. However, that district's sales tax does not apply if your retail sales are for delivery outside of the district where your place of business is located.

District Use Tax

District use tax is imposed on consumers. When district sales tax does not apply, district use taxes are imposed on the price of merchandise purchased from a retailer for storage, use, or other consumption in a taxing district. If you are a retailer, including an Internet seller, and you are "engaged in business in a district" imposing a district tax, you are responsible for collecting the district use tax from your customer and reporting and paying it to the CDTFA on your sales of tangible merchandise for delivery in the district.

Who is engaged in business a district?

You are "engaged in business in a district" if you are a retailer who:

  • Maintains, occupies, or uses, directly or indirectly, or through a subsidiary or agent, a permanent or temporary office, place of distribution, sales or sample room, warehouse or storage place, or other physical place of business in the district; or
  • Has a representative, agent, or independent contractor operating in the district on your behalf or under your authority, or under the authority of your subsidiary, for the purpose of making sales, taking orders, assembling or installing merchandise, training customers, making deliveries, or otherwise establishing or maintaining a market for your products; or
  • Receives rental payments from the leases of tangible merchandise located in the district, such as leases of machinery, equipment, and furniture; or
  • Owns or leases real or tangible merchandise in the district, such as machinery, equipment, furniture, or a computer server; or
  • Sells or leases vehicles or undocumented vessels which will be registered in a district; or
  • Has total combined sales of tangible merchandise in California or for delivery in California by you and all persons related to you that exceed $500,000 in the preceding or current calendar year.

Beginning April 25, 2019, any retailer required to be registered with the CDTFA, whether located inside or outside of California, that meets the $500,000 threshold, is engaged in business in every district in California whether or not they have a physical presence in those districts. As such, these retailers are required to collect the district use tax on their taxable sales made for delivery in those districts that impose a district tax. Retailers that do not meet the $500,000 threshold are still engaged in business in any district(s) in which they have a physical presence.

Who is not required to collect district use tax?

Generally, you are not required to collect a district's use tax if you make sales for shipment by common carrier into a taxing district and you are not engaged in business in the district but, your customer remains liable for the district's use tax. As a courtesy to your customer, you may choose to collect the district's use tax from them. If you do, it should be shown on the customer's invoice and you must report it on your return to the CDTFA.

For more information, please see publication 44, District Taxes (Sales and Use Taxes), and the online guides, Use Tax Collection Requirements Based on Sales into California Due to the Wayfair Decision and Local and District Tax Guide for Retailers.

Courtesy collection of use tax

California consumers are responsible for paying the state, local, and district use tax on purchases from retailers that do not collect the tax. If you are not required to register with the CDTFA, you may choose to voluntarily register with the CDTFA for a Certificate of Registration—Use Tax to collect and pay use tax as a courtesy to your California customers. If you hold such a certificate, you will be required to collect and pay tax from purchasers in the same manner as retailers engaged in business in this state. Your obligation to pay tax will continue until you close out your Certificate of Registration—Use Tax.

Shipping and delivery charges

Tax does not apply to separately stated charges for delivery of property from the retailer's place of business or other point from which shipment is made directly to the purchaser, provided the delivery is by other than the facilities of the retailer (for example, by United States mail, independent contractor, or common carrier). The exclusion for delivery and shipping charges only applies to the cost of the transportation to the retailer and the portion of a shipping or delivery charge that is greater than the actual delivery cost, is taxable.

Also, handling charges are for a service related to the sale and are subject to tax when related to a taxable sale. Please see publication 100, Shipping and Delivery Charges.

Registration

If you are not currently registered with the CDTFA, you may register with us online.

From our Taxpayer Online Services Portal, scroll down to Registration, select Register a New Business Activity or Location, and follow the prompts.

Please note: This publication summarizes the law and applicable regulations in effect when the publication was written, as noted above. However, changes in the law or in regulations may have occurred since that time. If there is a conflict between the text in this publication and the law, decisions will be based on the law and not on this publication.

Nontaxable Sales

Some Internet sales are not taxable

Common exempt transactions

Some of your Internet sales—including sales for resale, sales of cold food products, and sales delivered outside of California—may not be subject to California sales or use tax. Common exemptions are described in publication 73, Your California Seller’s Permit. More detailed information is found in publication 61, Sales and Use Taxes: Exemptions and Exclusions.

Products electronically transmitted to customers

Your sale of electronic data products such as software, data, digital books (eBooks), mobile applications, and digital images are generally not taxable when you transmit the data to your customer over the Internet. However, if as part of the sale, you provide your customer with a printed copy of the electronically transferred information or a backup data copy on a physical storage medium, such as a flash drive, your entire sale is usually taxable.

An eBook is an electronic version of a traditional print book that can be read by using a tablet computer or by using an eBook reader. Users can purchase an eBook on tangible media, such as CD or flash drive, but the most popular method of getting an eBook is to purchase a downloadable file of the eBook without purchasing any physical storage medium. A mobile application, also known as a “mobile app,” is computer software designed for use on a smartphone or tablet computer. The transfer of a downloadable file such as an eBook or an “app” without purchasing any physical storage medium is not a taxable transaction.

If your company sells canned (noncustom) software programs to customers who download them from a server, those sales are generally not subject to tax. However, if you also provide your customers with a backup copy on a flash drive, the entire transaction is taxable. Similarly, if you transmit a stock (noncustom) database to your customers over the Internet and also provide a printed copy of the contents, the entire sale is subject to tax. For more information regarding the sale of computer programs and data processing services, you may obtain a copy of Regulation 1502, Computers, Programs, and Data Processing.

Online Marketplaces and Fulfillment Centers

Some retailers choose online marketplaces to sell their products rather than, or in addition to, selling their merchandise through their own websites. Additionally, some retailers choose to use fulfillment centers to fulfill their orders.

What is an online marketplace?

In general, an online marketplace is a website where third-party sellers (marketplace sellers) list products for sale. Online marketplaces can offer products for sale by the owners or operators of the marketplaces as well as third-party sellers. Others exclusively serve as a marketplace for third-party sellers.

What is a fulfillment center?

A fulfillment center is a location, generally a warehouse facility, where orders for tangible merchandise are received, packaged, and picked up by a common carrier for shipment to the customer. Some sellers use their own fulfillment centers to fulfill all their orders, including marketplace orders. Other sellers contract with a third party that operates a fulfillment center (fulfillment center operator) to fulfill their orders. In some instances, the fulfillment center operator is a retailer itself that provides fulfillment services to third-party sellers at the same facilities from which it ships its own products.

Who is the retailer when using an online marketplace or fulfillment center?

When a marketplace seller utilizes an online marketplace and/or a third-party fulfillment center to make a retail sale of tangible personal property to a California customer, either the marketplace seller, marketplace facilitator (as defined in the Marketplace Facilitators Act—see section below), or the marketplace operator (see Consignment Sales section below) may be the retailer for sales and use tax purposes.

Are retailers with inventory in California required to register with the CDTFA?

Retailers that store inventory in California are generally engaged in business in this state and required to register with the CDTFA and pay sales tax or collect and pay use tax on their sales of tangible merchandise for delivery in California. This includes retailers that have inventory at a California fulfillment center owned and operated by a third-party.

For more information, please see our online guide, Fulfillment Centers.

Marketplace sellers

Who is responsible for collecting and/or paying the tax on sales?

In general, when tangible merchandise is sold at retail, the owner of the merchandise is the retailer making the sale and responsible for paying sales tax or collecting and paying use tax on that sale, including a marketplace seller selling its inventory through an online marketplace and/or using a fulfillment center.

However, when a marketplace seller is using a fulfillment center to fulfill its retail sales of merchandise made through a marketplace, the marketplace operator may be a consignee making consignment sales and responsible for paying sales tax or collecting and paying use tax as the retailer. Please see the Consignment Sales section below.

Changes starting October 1, 2019

Beginning October 1, 2019, marketplace facilitators (as defined in the Marketplace Facilitators Act—see section below) may be the seller and retailer required to pay or collect and pay the tax to the CDTFA on marketplace sellers' sales of merchandise facilitated through their marketplace. You should contact the person operating the online marketplace where you sell your tangible merchandise to determine if they are a marketplace facilitator and responsible for paying or collecting and paying the tax on your sales made through their marketplace.

If all your retail sales of merchandise will be facilitated by a marketplace facilitator registered as a seller or retailer with the CDTFA, beginning October 1, 2019, you are not required to register with the CDTFA for a seller's permit or a Certificate of Registration—Use Tax. Please see the Marketplace Facilitators Act, beginning October 1, 2019, section below.

Marketplace Facilitators Act, beginning October 1, 2019

The Marketplace Facilitator Act provides that, beginning October 1, 2019, a marketplace facilitator is the seller and retailer, and responsible for paying sales tax or collecting and paying use tax if they:

  • Are registered or required to be registered with the CDTFA as a seller or retailer, and
  • Facilitate retail sales of tangible merchandise for a marketplace seller through its marketplace.

    As such, the marketplace facilitator will generally be required to pay sales tax or collect and pay use tax to the CDTFA on all retail sales of tangible merchandise for delivery to California purchasers facilitated through its marketplace for marketplace sellers.

The following are the general definitions for terms used in the Marketplace Facilitator Act:

  • Marketplace—a physical or electronic place where a marketplace seller sells, or offers for sale, tangible merchandise for delivery in California.
  • Marketplace facilitator—in general, a person who contracts with marketplace sellers to facilitate the sale of the marketplace seller's product through a marketplace operated by the person or a related person.
  • Marketplace seller—a person who has an agreement with a marketplace facilitator and makes retail sales of tangible merchandise through a marketplace that is owned, operated, or controlled by a marketplace facilitator.

What does this mean for marketplace sellers?

On or after October 1, 2019, marketplace sellers are no longer considered the retailer of sales of tangible merchandise if their sales are facilitated through a marketplace owned or operated by a marketplace facilitator registered or required to be registered with the CDTFA as a seller or retailer.

What documentation should marketplace sellers keep?

As a marketplace seller, you should obtain and keep documentation showing the marketplace facilitator is responsible for collecting and paying the tax to the CDTFA when sales of merchandise are facilitated through a marketplace.

This documentation includes, but is not limited to:

  • A written agreement with the marketplace facilitator indicating the marketplace facilitator is registered with the CDTFA as a seller or retailer and is responsible for collecting and paying the tax on sales made through its marketplace.
  • In lieu of a written agreement or other contract, other documentation showing the marketplace facilitator is registered as a seller or retailer with the CDTFA.

You should also obtain the marketplaces facilitator's permit or account number. You can verify that it is a valid account number on our Verify a Permit, License, or Account Now page.

In addition, the CDTFA will not hold you, as a marketplace seller, liable for tax on a transaction facilitated through a marketplace if we can verify the marketplace facilitator collected the correct amount of tax or tax reimbursement from the purchaser on that transaction and paid it to the CDTFA.

For more information, see our online guide, Tax Guide for Marketplace Facilitator Act.

Consignment sales

If the marketplace operator provides fulfillment services for you, the marketplace operator will be considered the retailer of your merchandise if:

  • It has possession of the property at the time of sale, and
  • It can transfer ownership to the purchaser without further action by you.

For additional information, please see publication 114, Consignment Sales.

Please note: If the marketplace operator has the authority to transfer ownership, but a different person, such as a fulfillment center operator, has possession of the property at the time of sale, then neither person would be a consignee, even if the two are related entities. Under these conditions, you are considered to be the retailer of the property being sold to a consumer and thus liable for the tax on the sale to the California customer. This applies, unless the sale is facilitated by a marketplace facilitator who is the seller and retailer under the Marketplace Facilitator Act.

Marketplace operators as retailers of property owned by marketplace sellers

Some online marketplace operators display the property of various sellers, manufacturers, and suppliers. When a consumer purchases property through the marketplace, the terms of sale dictate, and receipts and other documents related to the sale reflect, that the consumer purchases the tangible property directly from the marketplace operator. In these instances, the marketplace operators are generally purchasing the property from the sellers, manufacturers, or suppliers for resale, and then making a retail sale of the property to the consumer.

If you are a seller making sales for resale to a marketplace operator in this manner, you should obtain a timely and properly completed resale certificate from your customer to support your claimed sales for resale, please see Regulation 1668, Sales for Resale.

Please note: If you are a retailer engaged in business in California, and you ship the property directly to the consumer on behalf of a marketplace operator that is not engaged in business in California, you will be responsible for reporting and paying tax as a drop shipper. For additional information, please see publication 121, Drop Shipments.

Additional Accounts, Licenses, and Permits

If you are required to register in California for a seller's permit or a Certificate of Registration—Use Tax, you may meet other registration and fee collection requirements.

California tire fee

If you sell new tires or vehicles and equipment that include new tires, you are required to collect a California Tire Fee from the retail purchaser. The California Tire Fee is imposed on the retail purchase of new tires. A retailer is required to collect from the retail purchaser the amount of the fee on each tire when the retailer sells or leases new or used motor vehicles, trailers, farm equipment, or construction equipment that include new tires (including the spare), or sells new tires for use with, but sold separately from, on-road or off-road motor vehicles, trailers, motorized equipment, construction equipment, or farm equipment.

For more information on the California Tire Fee, please see publication 91, California Tire Fee.

Covered electronic waste recycling (eWaste) fee

If you sell covered electronic devices, you are required to collect a Covered Electronic Waste Recycling (eWaste) Fee from the retail purchaser/leasee. The eWaste Fee is imposed on the retail purchase or lease of “covered electronic devices,” which are video display products the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) determined to be hazardous when discarded. These devices include computer monitors, laptop computers, portable DVD players with LCD screens, “bare” cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and devices containing CRTs, televisions with LCD screens, plasma screens, or CRTs. The fee varies depending on the screen size. Please see the eWaste Fee rates posted on our website.

For more information on the eWaste Fee, please see publication 95, Electronic Waste Recycling Fee.

Lead-acid battery fee

If you sell or manufacture lead-acid batteries sold into California, you are required to register for the California Lead-Acid Battery Fee and/or the Manufacturer Battery Fee. The Lead-Acid Battery Fee is imposed on the retail purchaser of a replacement lead-acid battery in California. It is a fee that is collected by the retailer or a manufacturer making retail sales. A replacement lead-acid battery includes a new battery sold at retail to replace the battery that originally came with the vehicle, equipment, watercraft, or aircraft.

In addition to the Lead-Acid Battery Fee, there is a Manufacturer Battery Fee. This fee is imposed on the manufacturer for each lead-acid battery sold at retail in California, or sold to a dealer, wholesaler, distributor, or other person for retail sale in California. A person who imports lead-acid batteries into California from an out-of-state manufacturer, without jurisdiction in California, is considered the manufacturer.

For more information on the Lead-Acid Battery Fee and registration requirements, please see our Tax Guide for Lead-Acid Battery Fees.

Lumber products assessment

If you sell lumber products or engineered wood products, you are required to collect a lumber products assessment on sales of these items to consumers in California. The assessment is imposed on persons who purchase lumber products or engineered wood products for storage, use, or other consumption in California, at the rate of one percent (1%) of the sales price. In general, lumber products and engineered wood products subject to the one percent lumber products assessment are building products, usually used in construction, which are comprised of at least ten percent (10%) wood.

Retailers responsible for collecting the one percent lumber products assessment on sales of lumber products or engineered wood products are required to register for a Lumber Products Assessment account in addition to registering for a seller's permit or Certificate of Registration—Use Tax.

For more information, please see our online Tax Guide for California Lumber Products Assessment.

Additional Information

For more information

CDTFA regulations, publications, online industry guides, and additional information are available on the CDTFA website or by calling our Customer Service Center at 1-800-400-7115 (CRS:711).

Regulations

1502 Computers, Programs, and Data Processing

1528 Photographers, Photocopiers, Photo Finishers, and X-Ray Laboratories

1610 Vehicles, Vessels, and Aircraft

1620 Interstate and Foreign Commerce

1628 Transportation Chargers

1660 Leases of Tangible Personal Property—in General

1661 Leases of Mobile Transportation Equipment

1668 Sales for Resale

1684 Collection of Use Tax by Retailers

1685 Payment of Tax by Purchasers

1686 Receipts for Tax Paid to Retailers

1699 Permits

1700 Reimbursement for Sales Tax

1823 Application of Transactions (Sales) and Use Tax

1827 Collection of Use Tax by Retailers (for special district taxes)

Publications

34 Motor Vehicle Dealers

44 District Taxes (Sales and Use Taxes)

61 Sales and Use Taxes: Exemption and Exclusions

68 Photographers, Photo Finishers, and Film Processing Laboratories

73 Your California Seller's Permit

77 Out-of-State Sellers: Do You Need to Register with California?

91 California Tire Fee

95 Electronic Waste Recycling Fee

100 Shipping and Delivery Charges

101 Sales Delivered Outside California

103 Sales for Resale

105 District Taxes and Sales Delivered in California

107 Do You Need a California Seller’s Permit?

110 California Use Tax Basics

114 Consignment Sales

121 Drop Shipments