Accounting for Ecommerce: An Introductory Manual for 2023
Embarking on the journey of starting a business comes with significant milestones along the way.
From the moment your product is ready for the market, to the day you launch your online store and make that first sale, each step calls for celebration. As an ecommerce entrepreneur, nothing beats the thrill of seeing the revenue flowing into your bank account.
However, amidst the excitement, it is crucial to establish a robust system for monitoring and handling your income and expenses. In essence, you need a reliable ecommerce accounting system to ensure financial transparency and efficiency.
What is ecommerce accounting?
Well, it’s the process of effectively managing and organizing all financial data and transactions related to an ecommerce business. Essentially, it’s a specialized form of accounting tailored to meet the unique needs of online sellers.
Accounting itself involves tracking and recording transactions, classifying them as either income or expenses. Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?
However, accounting terminologies can sometimes be confusing, especially for those new to business finances. To simplify things, let’s break down some key components of ecommerce accounting:
- Purchase Order: A legally binding document in which a client specifies the quantity and type of items they wish to purchase, along with the agreed-upon price. While a purchase order is not a payment itself, it should include payment details. For instance, your company may use a purchase order to request raw materials from a vendor, or clients might submit one to request specific goods or services from you.
- Sales Order: Prepared by the seller, a sales order provides comprehensive details of a sale, often in response to a purchase order. It includes information on the client, a description and quantity of goods sold, the total sale amount, payment details, and the delivery address and date.
- Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable: These terms are used to refer to unpaid bills and invoices, as well as the total amount of expenses that are yet to be paid and revenue yet to be received.
- Cost of Goods Sold (COGS): This refers to the overall cost associated with the production and distribution of a product. It typically includes expenses like shipping, warehousing, credit card fees, and any other costs directly related to selling products. However, it does not include overhead expenses such as payroll, marketing, software licenses, or office space.
- Ecommerce Sales Tax: This is the tax paid by an ecommerce business to the state where the purchaser resides. It comes into play when there is a sales tax nexus between the seller and the state, meaning the business has a taxable presence in that state due to economic activities conducted there.
So, there you have it—an overview of ecommerce accounting and its key components. By properly managing these aspects, ecommerce businesses can maintain financial transparency and ensure compliance with tax regulations.
What does ecommerce accounting involve? Let’s break it down:
- Basic Bookkeeping: Just like any business, ecommerce accounting includes essential bookkeeping functions such as managing invoices, payroll, and balance sheets. These tasks ensure accurate recording and tracking of financial transactions.
- Planning and Reporting: Ecommerce accounting goes beyond basic bookkeeping with more advanced planning and reporting functions. This includes preparing financial statements, analyzing profitability, creating strategic tax plans, and generating reports that provide insights into the financial health of the business.
Tax management is a critical aspect of ecommerce accounting. It involves understanding and complying with tax regulations, tracking and remitting state and local taxes, calculating and filing quarterly estimated taxes, year-end filing, and distributing 1099s to contract workers. Different states have different rules regarding sales tax, and ecommerce sellers must determine when they are required to charge sales tax based on factors like sales tax nexus.
Accurate bookkeeping is crucial for effective business planning and operations. This includes tracking and categorizing income and expenses, managing inventory, and reviewing balance sheets. Ecommerce accounting systems should also account for customer returns to ensure financial reports remain accurate even with return transactions.
Planning for Growth
Ecommerce accounting plays a vital role in strategic business planning and growth. It helps analyze product profitability, track changes in profit over time, identify major expenses and liabilities, and identify opportunities to increase profit margins. Ecommerce accounting also provides financial benchmarking to measure the success of new ventures and make informed decisions about the business’s future. Additionally, running financial reports like profit and loss statements and cash flow statements provides a comprehensive understanding of the company’s financial performance.
In summary, ecommerce accounting encompasses basic bookkeeping, advanced planning and reporting, tax management, accurate record-keeping, and strategic growth planning. It’s an essential part of managing an ecommerce business and ensuring its financial success.
What should ecommerce business owners keep track of? Let’s find out:
- Cash Flow: Keeping track of cash flow is crucial for managing the movement of money into and out of your business. It helps you meet financial obligations, pay expenses on time, and avoid accumulating unexpected debt. By monitoring cash flow, you can ensure a healthy financial position for your business.
- Gross Profit: Gross profit is a key metric in running an ecommerce business. It is calculated by subtracting the cost of goods sold (COGS) from the total revenue. This metric reveals the profitability of your products or services before deducting other expenses. A higher gross profit indicates better revenue generation and cost management.
- Gross Margins: Gross margins are a percentage-based calculation derived from the gross profit. It measures the profitability of each sale by expressing the gross profit as a percentage of total revenue. This metric helps assess the efficiency of your pricing strategy and cost control efforts. Higher gross margins indicate a healthier profit margin for your business.
- Balance Sheets: Balance sheets provide a snapshot of your business’s financial position at a specific moment in time. They comprise three main categories: assets (cash, accounts receivable, inventory), liabilities (accounts payable, wages, income tax), and shareholders’ equity. Balance sheets help evaluate the financial health and stability of your business.
- Profit and Loss (P&L) Statements: Profit and loss statements provide a comprehensive overview of your business’s profitability over a specified period. They calculate the total revenue and deduct all costs associated with running your business, including COGS, marketing expenses, payroll, and overhead. A positive number indicates a profit, while a negative number indicates a loss. Regularly reviewing P&L statements helps you assess your business’s financial performance and make informed decisions.
By closely tracking these metrics, ecommerce business owners can gain a clear understanding of their financial health, identify areas for improvement, and make strategic decisions to drive growth and profitability.
Accounting methods for ecommerce sellers
Choosing the right accounting method is important for ecommerce sellers. Let’s explore the two primary methods: cash accounting and accrual accounting.
Cash Basis Accounting: This method focuses on tracking cash transactions.
Under cash accounting, you record income when you receive payment and expenses when you make the payment. For example, if you receive a purchase order for an $800 handmade coffee table, you would record the income when the payment for the table arrives in your account. Similarly, expenses are recognized when the payment is made. This method provides a clear picture of your cash flow as it directly reflects the inflow and outflow of cash.
However, it’s essential to note that under cash accounting, you might face timing differences. For instance, if you owe money to a videographer for product videos that will be completed in the next quarter, the expense is not recognized until the payment is made, even though you have the money in your account. This can affect the timing of tax obligations.
Accrual Basis Accounting.
This method focuses on recognizing revenue and expenses when they are earned or incurred, regardless of cash flow.
Accrual accounting provides a more comprehensive view of your business’s financial performance. It recognizes revenue when a sale is made, even if you haven’t received payment yet. Similarly, expenses are recorded when they are incurred, regardless of when the payment is made.
Using our previous example, if you make a sale for the $800 handmade coffee table, you would record the revenue at the time of the sale, even if the payment hasn’t been received. Likewise, you would recognize expenses as they are incurred, irrespective of the timing of the payment.
Accrual accounting provides a more accurate representation of your business’s profitability over time and aligns revenue and expenses more closely. However, it requires careful tracking of accounts receivable and accounts payable to ensure accurate financial reporting.
When choosing an accounting method, it’s crucial to consider your business’s specific needs, industry standards, and compliance requirements. Some businesses may prefer cash accounting for its simplicity, while others opt for accrual accounting to gain a more accurate financial overview.
It’s important to consult with an accounting professional or seek advice from a reputable accounting software provider to determine the best accounting method for your ecommerce business.
Let’s take a look at some of the best ecommerce accounting software options available for your business:
QuickBooks Online is a comprehensive cloud accounting software that offers automation for your ecommerce store.
Let’s highlight the features of QuickBooks that make it a powerful ecommerce accounting solution:
- Seamless Integration: QuickBooks enables seamless integration with your ecommerce platforms and marketplaces. This integration allows for automatic import of sales and payouts, ensuring accurate financial records. You can effortlessly map these transactions to the correct accounts, eliminating manual data entry and reducing the risk of errors.
- Smart Matching: With QuickBooks, you can benefit from smart matching capabilities. It automatically breaks down your revenue, taxes, and fees across your various sales channels. By intelligently mapping the payouts with your bank deposits, QuickBooks simplifies reconciliation and ensures accurate recording of your financial data.
- Trend Analysis: QuickBooks goes beyond basic accounting functions by offering insightful trend analysis. It provides valuable insights into your sales, revenue, and top-selling products. Detailed reports allow you to analyze your business performance across different sales channels, helping you make informed decisions and identify opportunities for growth.
- Tax Management: QuickBooks is designed to simplify tax management for ecommerce businesses. By automating detailed financial breakdowns, it helps you maximize your deductions and ensures compliance with tax regulations. During tax time, QuickBooks streamlines the preparation process, making it easier for you to organize and report your financial data accurately.
Xero is a cloud-based accounting software designed for small and medium-sized businesses.
- 800+ integrations: Enhances its functionality by integrating with a range of third-party applications, such as Shopify and Stripe.
- Unlimited users: You have the flexibility to accommodate multiple software users with varying levels of control for different accounts.
- Invoicing and quotes: The software offers a range of features, including a flexible invoicing template and the ability to generate and send quotes. Additionally, it includes functionalities such as automated reminders, recurring invoices, as well as the ability to send and receive payments from other Xero users.
- Expense tracking: Link your credit card and bank account seamlessly within the app, conveniently classify your expenditures, divide transactions, and effortlessly recall previously assigned categories to prior transactions.
Zoho Books provides a comprehensive platform for managing bookkeeping tasks and organizing transactions. It offers features such as:
- Import: The capability to import and categorize your current data in order to optimize operations.
- Customization: Enables users to customize sales and purchase transaction templates to meet their specific business requirements and showcase their unique brand identity.
- Automation: Enables the organization and prioritization of multiple tasks through automated workflows, which streamline processes such as email alerts, field updates, and in-app notifications.
- Document management: The platform offers a convenient hub for storing all of your documents, allowing you to upload and attach various files such as receipts to specific transaction records. Additionally, you can also send documents directly to your email inbox where they will be automatically sorted and managed.
Selecting the right ecommerce accounting software for your store is an important decision. Consider the following factors as you evaluate your options:
- Integrations: Look for software that can integrate seamlessly with your existing systems, such as your ecommerce platform or inventory management software. Integration allows for automated data transfer, accurate inventory management, and simplified tax compliance.
- Scalability: Consider the growth potential of your business. Choose software that offers scalable pricing plans or packages, allowing you to upgrade as your accounting needs evolve with the expansion of your business.
- Features: Evaluate the features and functionality that the accounting software offers. Look for tools that can save you time, such as invoicing, expense tracking, sales tax calculation, payroll management, and multi-currency support. These features can streamline your administrative tasks and enhance efficiency.
- User-Friendliness: Opt for software that is user-friendly and intuitive. You and your team should be able to quickly adapt to the software without significant training or a steep learning curve. A clean and intuitive interface facilitates smooth navigation and ease of use.
- Customer Support: Good customer support is essential, especially when you encounter issues or have questions about the software. Look for accounting software providers that offer robust customer support services, including live chat, phone support, and a comprehensive knowledge base.
- Security: Protecting your financial data is of utmost importance. Ensure that the software you choose has robust security measures in place, such as two-factor authentication, data encryption, and regular backups. These features help safeguard your sensitive information.
- Positive Reviews: Research and read reviews from other ecommerce businesses who have used the accounting software you are considering. Platforms like G2 and the Shopify App Store can provide valuable insights into the software’s pros and cons based on real user experiences.
Remember, the best software for your business will depend on your unique requirements and circumstances. Before making a commitment, take advantage of free trials offered by the software providers to evaluate if the software meets your needs and preferences.
Implementing best practices for ecommerce accounting can contribute to the smooth operation of your online business. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Prioritize Good Bookkeeping: Maintaining accurate and up-to-date financial records is crucial. Record all financial transactions, including sales, purchases, income, and expenses. This practice provides a clear understanding of your financial health and facilitates accurate reporting.
- Automate Where Possible: Leverage technology to automate accounting tasks. Utilize software to track sales, calculate taxes, and send invoices. Automation reduces the risk of human error and saves you time, enabling you to focus on other aspects of your business.
- Use Ecommerce Accounting Software: Consider utilizing specialized accounting software specifically designed for ecommerce businesses. These solutions integrate with your ecommerce platform and can assist in managing and reconciling sales, inventory, and expenses effectively.
- Regularly Reconcile Your Accounts: Regularly compare your financial records with bank statements to ensure accuracy and identify any discrepancies. This practice helps identify errors early on, preventing them from evolving into significant problems.
- Keep Track of Inventory: Efficient inventory management is crucial for ecommerce businesses. Monitor your stock levels, track sales and demand, and identify slow-moving or obsolete items. Utilize inventory tracking features within your accounting software or consider using a dedicated inventory management system.
- Monitor Cash Flow: Maintaining a healthy cash flow is essential. Regularly monitor the flow of money into and out of your business. Positive cash flow indicates a financially healthy business, while negative cash flow requires attention and corrective measures.
- Understand Sales Tax Obligations: Ecommerce businesses face complex sales tax regulations, particularly when selling to customers across different states or countries. Familiarize yourself with your sales tax obligations and ensure proper collection and remittance of sales tax in compliance with regulations.
By following these ecommerce accounting best practices, you can establish a solid financial foundation, streamline operations, optimize inventory management, and ensure compliance with tax regulations. As your business grows, maintaining accurate accounting practices becomes even more critical for sustainable growth and financial success.