By Ken Berry
Are consumers inclined to drop off their tax returns at a department store kiosk after shopping for linens, sporting goods, or electronic gadgets? Both Liberty Tax Services and Jackson Hewitt are betting they are.
Beginning next tax return season, Liberty Tax will set up shop in more than 300 Walmart stores around the country. The national tax preparation firm - with more than 4,100 offices in the United States and Canada - provides computerized tax preparation and electronic filing services for individual taxpayers. At each office, it offers audit assistance, a money-back guarantee, and a free tax return review to buyers. Liberty Tax already occupies year-round office space in about a dozen or so Walmart Supercenters.
"Liberty Tax is excited about the opportunity to provide excellent tax preparation operations to Walmart's customers," said its CEO and founder, John Hewitt, in a prepared statement. "Our company is very customer centric, and the addition of the Walmart locations in tax season 2013 is another opportunity for us to provide a convenient solution for customers looking for a local tax preparer."
The news coincides with an announcement that Jackson Hewitt, which was cofounded by John Hewitt before he left to start his own company, will replace longstanding tenant H&R Block at Sears stores in 2013. H&R Block reportedly will downsize to 112 Sears locations this year from approximately 500 as it attempts to refocus its business on competition with tax software providers like TurboTax.
It may be odd for us to think of shoppers stopping to get their tax returns prepared while they pick up household goods or clothing, but Hewitt sees the department store market growing to meet the demands of busy taxpayers. "We continue to expand our relationships, with Walmart being our latest," he tells AccountingWEB. "Convenience is the key for consumers. We will be open from nine to nine, Monday through Friday, and nine to five on Saturday. One to two employees will be there during those hours."
The main item for sale is preparation of individual tax returns, although Hewitt says his company also offers corporate and partnership tax preparation services at the stores. But this constitutes less than 10 percent of Liberty Tax's business.
Is there any potential downside to the setup with Walmart? Hewitt acknowledges that lack of privacy may be a concern. But he comments that they won't move their operations into a more private area, like the layaway department, because they would lose the value of greater visibility. Expect to see the kiosks in plain sight next year.