My 68-cent sales tax refund in Seattle

Grocery receipt 2Earlier this week, I posted a short article to the effect that I thought my neighborhood Albertsons supermarket in Seattle improperly had charged me the state sales tax on six two-liter bottles of unsalted club soda. The tax wasn’t exactly a tremendous sum–68 cents to be exact. But I thought there was a principle involved–you know, that stuff we learned growing up about following the law.

So after researching the big issues involved, I sent emails inquiring about this tax treatment both to Albertsons and the Washington State Department of Revenue, which oversees the sales tax. I provided citations to specific provisions of Washington State law and a “special notice” issued by the DOR entitled “Taxability of Soft Drinks.”

Then I sat back and waited. Today, there were developments.

I got both an email and a call from Albertsons. Yes, I was right. The tax shouldn’t have been charged. The store would refund me the 68 cents and even give me a $5 gift card for my trouble.

Gee, that’s nice, I told the customer service rep who called me from a regional Albertsons office in Spokane. But, I asked, what about the tax wrongly collected on thousands of other bottles of unsalted club soda that the retailer undoubtedly sold in its other stores across the state?  How are you going to make those customers whole on that?

I think it fair to say that left the rep momentarily speechless. But she recovered and said the company had no way of identifying those customers.

Au contraire, I said, Albertsons keeps track of almost everyone’s purchases through their individual frequent shopper card. That information is used to target ads. It should be a snap to do this.

The rep, I believe, was again speechless for a second. But she recovered again by saying she had no way of identifying the customers–which, although completely irrelevant, I’m sure was true. (This woman clearly has a future as a press secretary for some politician.) However, she said anyone who could show they were wrongly charged could also go to a store for a refund.

Of course, many customers might not know this. So I asked her if she would mind if I posted something about this on social media. Her tone suggested to me she indeed would mind. But she voiced no specific objection.

So, attention fellow guzzlers of saltless club soda who shop at the 10 Albertsons in Seattle and the rest of the state! Consider this your opportunity to cut this portion of your recent beverage bill by 9.5% (in Seattle, anyway). And to those of you who buy this product from other retailers, take a close look at your receipts.

But at least Albertsons responded and did the right thing (albeit just for me). That’s more than I can say right now for the Department of Revenue.

I sent my query via the DOR’s “Quick Question” page, which says, “You can generally expect a response within two business days.” It’s been longer than that, and I’m still waiting. Now here’s a customer service issue for the new administration in Olympia to look into.

Meanwhile, another sip.

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My 68-cent sales tax refund in Seattle — 3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Another big sales tax refund in Seattle, for all of $4.75 | New To Seattle

  2. Fortunately for Albertsons, I am not admitted to practice in Washington State. The company’s class-action exposure had occurred to me, especially given its apparent reluctance to fix the situation. Assuming that the company in fact remitted the wrongly collected collected sales tax to the state, it would cost it nothing to make customers whole, since Albertsons could offset that against future sales tax remittances. It would be a completely different matter if Albertsons took in the sales tax but didn’t send it to Olympia. However, I have absolutely no evidence of that happening and would be surprised.

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