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Veteran Shoppers: Military Expands Online Access to Exchanges

(Photo: Army and Air Force Exchange service graphic.)
(Photo: Army and Air Force Exchange service graphic.)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- About 57,000 residents in Tennessee's Shelby County can start receiving at least a 9.25 percent break -- and often more -- on their retail purchases starting Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

That's when ShopMyExchange.com goes live for the nation's 18 million honorably discharged veterans, 57,000 of whom live in around Shelby County, according to the Army & Air Force Exchange Service.

For starters, local veterans won't have to pay the 9.25 percent local and state sales tax on any of the online purchases they make. Then there's the routine discount that the military exchanges offer on their products.

Military exchanges -- both the stores and the websites -- long have been available only to active duty personnel or those who made a career of the military and retired after serving 20 years.

That remains the case for the brick-and-mortar facilities, but ShopMyExchange.com will open access to millions more who have served the country.

"The best thing about it is you don't pay tax, and then any order over $50 is free shipping," said Frederick Hardy of Cordova.

He served in the Marine Corps from 1983 to 1991, now works for an informational technology company and since August has been one of the lucky volunteer veterans asked to beta-test ShopMyExchange.com.

"I've bought quite a few things, mainly for my wife: An iPad, an iPad pencil, an Apple watch band and a couple of other small items," he said.

It's no coincidence that Hardy decided to buy a high-ticket item like the iPad through the exchange program. Since he does not have to pay the 9.25 percent sales tax, the higher the price the more he saves.

"You'll save $100 on $1,000. (The exchange) might have another discount and you might get an additional 25 percent off," Hardy said.

One of the forces behind the Defense Department's policy change was Tom Shull, director and chief executive of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service.

The Vietnam-era Army vet and West Point Academy and Harvard Business School graduate pressed for four years to make the exchange benefits accessible online for all honorably discharged veterans, no matter how long they served.

"To me, it's really about welcoming home the vets and making them feel better about the service," Shull said in a telephone interview with The Commercial Appeal.

His mission to establish ShopMyExchange is informed in part by his fellow Vietnam vets and the poor reception so many received upon returning to the U.S.

"I think it's all part of the healing process," said Shull, whose civilian career included top-level positions at Macy's, Barneys New York, Hanover Direct and Wise Foods.

Some might argue that restricting access has given service members an incentive to make a career of the military.

But Shull believes that honoring all veterans with the exchange benefits will only help recruiting.

"Eighty percent of those serving today are connected to the prior service of relatives," he said. "We believe this strengthens the prospect of recruiting. Only 1 percent of America serves today... Clearly this will strengthen the ties of whose who serve today and those who have served."

There's a good indication of how strong the demand is for ShopMyExchange.com among veterans. Despite limited promotion, about 250,000 veterans have already verified their status through vetverify.org and signed up for the program.

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This article is written by Tom Bailey from Commercial Appeal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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