June 21, 2023
14 min

Ecommerce Accounting: The Full Guide 2023

E-Commerce is complex. Each platform comes with its own fees, limitations, policies, and tax liabilities that you need to master. Let's un-complicate it.
Ecommerce Accounting: The Full Guide 2023
Table of contents
Ecommerce Accounting: The Full Guide 2023

Navigating the vast world of ecommerce is a formidable challenge. As more businesses shift to digital platforms, the intricacies and nuances of ecommerce accounting become increasingly vital. 

This comprehensive guide, updated for 2023, demystifies the complexities of ecommerce accounting, providing you with essential insights to navigate this critical aspect of your ecommerce business effectively.

As businesses grow and evolve in the digital landscape, so too does the need for adept financial management. Through this guide, you will delve into the heart of ecommerce accounting, uncovering its integral role in driving the success of an ecommerce business. 

Key Takeaways from this Post

Understanding Ecommerce Accounting: Ecommerce accounting is more than just recording transactions. It's a strategic tool that helps navigate unique challenges like managing sales tax across different regions and handling multiple currencies due to global transactions.
The Importance of Advanced Accounting Software: Given the high volume of transactions in ecommerce businesses, advanced accounting software is essential. It not only ensures accurate record-keeping but also helps manage complex data, digital payments, and implement robust fraud detection measures.
Embracing Automation: Automation streamlines data transfer between your ecommerce platform and accounting software, reducing the risk of errors and improving efficiency. Automation is not just a convenience—it's a necessity for effective ecommerce accounting.

What is ecommerce accounting?

‍The world of ecommerce accounting can seem complex and elusive, particularly for those new to the ecommerce sphere. Yet, understanding this integral facet of ecommerce business is essential for success in today's digital marketplace.

At its core, ecommerce accounting is the systematic process of recording, interpreting, and communicating the financial transactions that occur within an ecommerce business. This broad definition, however, only scratches the surface of what ecommerce accounting truly entails.

Every ecommerce transaction, from the procurement of goods for resale to the monitoring of sales, requires meticulous recording. But accounting for ecommerce is more than a ledger of credits and debits; it's a strategic tool used to drive informed business decisions.

Differences between eCommerce accounting and business accounting

The main difference between ecommerce accounting and business accounting is that unlike traditional business accounting, ecommerce accounting involves unique challenges such as managing sales tax across different regions and handling multiple currencies due to global transactions. 

Moreover, ecommerce businesses operate in a fast-paced environment and deal with a high volume of transactions, adding complexity to the accounting for ecommerce.

Why ecommerce accounting is different?

Laptop Digital Work

Tax Management and Global Transactions

In traditional accounting, tax management is often confined to a single jurisdiction, with the business operating within a specific geographical boundary. 

However, when it comes to accounting for ecommerce business, the scenario changes dramatically. Ecommerce businesses often operate on a global scale, dealing with customers from different countries, each with its own tax regulations and rates. 

This means that e-commerce accounting involves managing multiple sales tax rates and dealing with transactions in multiple currencies. 

The global nature of transactions makes tax management in ecommerce accounting a complex task, requiring specialized knowledge and tools.

Nasa Night Sky

eCommerce Bookkeeping and High Volume of Transactions

Another key difference between traditional and e commerce accounting is the volume of transactions. 

Traditional businesses may deal with a handful of transactions daily, whereas ecommerce businesses can have hundreds or even thousands of transactions each day. This high volume of transactions makes the bookkeeping process in accounting for ecommerce companies more complex. 

It necessitates the use of advanced accounting software that can handle such a high volume of transactions and ensure accurate record-keeping.

Tracking Stock and Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)

In traditional accounting, tracking inventory and calculating the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) is relatively straightforward. However, in the ecommerce accounting process, it can be a challenging task. 

Ecommerce businesses often sell their products on multiple platforms, requiring them to track inventory across all these platforms. Additionally, they need to calculate the COGS accurately, which can be complex due to factors like shipping costs, discounts, and returns. 

Therefore, efficient inventory management and accurate calculation of COGS are crucial in ecommerce accounting.

Complex Data and Digital Payments

Code Data

Accounting for small ecommerce business involves dealing with complex data. Ecommerce businesses generate a wealth of data from various sources, including website analytics, customer data, sales data, and more. 

This data needs to be tracked and analyzed for effective decision-making. Additionally, ecommerce businesses often deal with digital payments, which come with their own set of challenges. 

These include different transaction fees for different payment methods and varying processing times. Therefore, handling complex data and digital payments is a key aspect of accounting for ecommerce.

Fraud Detection

In traditional accounting, the risk of fraud is relatively low. However, in accounting for e commerce business, the risk of online fraud is significantly higher. 

This includes credit card fraud, identity theft, and other types of online scams. Therefore, ecommerce businesses need to have robust fraud detection measures in place. 

This is a critical aspect of ecommerce accounting, and it requires specialized tools and strategies to effectively detect and prevent fraud.

Cyber Security Padlock Laptop

Revenue Recognition

Finally, revenue recognition in ecommerce accounting can be complex, especially for businesses selling digital goods or services, or using subscription models. 

In traditional accounting, revenue is typically recognized when a product is sold or a service is rendered. 

However, in ecommerce, the timing of revenue recognition can be more complex. For example, for a subscription service, revenue needs to be recognized over the duration of the subscription, not at the time of sale. 

Therefore, understanding and applying the correct revenue recognition principles is a key aspect of accounting for ecommerce businesses.

What are the Most Common Ecommerce Accounting Problems?

  • Sales Tax Compliance
  • Tracking Inventory
  • Handling Returns
  • Managing Multiple Currencies
  • High Volume of Transactions 
  • Digital Payment Reconciliation
  • Preventing Fraud 
  • Revenue Recognition
  • Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)
  • Data Management

How to do accounting for ecommerce

Getting started with ecommerce accounting might seem overwhelming, especially given the unique challenges and intricacies of the ecommerce landscape. 

However, with the right approach, the process can be manageable and even empowering. Here is a more detailed step-by-step guide on how to do accounting for ecommerce businesses.

1. Understand Your Business's Financial Needs:

Firstly, take the time to thoroughly understand your business's financial needs. This includes everything from tracking daily sales and expenses, understanding tax obligations, inventory tracking, to strategic financial planning. This step forms the foundation for your ecommerce accounting process.

2. Find an Ecommerce Accountant

If you're not confident in managing the complex world of ecommerce accounting yourself, consider hiring a professional ecommerce accountant. 

These professionals possess the expertise to navigate the unique financial landscape of ecommerce, ensuring accurate and efficient management of your business's financial affairs.

3. Choose an Accounting Software

Ecommerce businesses deal with high volumes of transactions across multiple platforms, currencies, and payment methods. To efficiently manage this, invest in a robust accounting software solution designed for ecommerce. 

This software should be able to integrate with your ecommerce platform, track all transactions in real-time, manage sales tax across different jurisdictions, and provide insightful financial reports.

4. Integrate with an Automation Tool

Automation is key in ecommerce accounting. With the high volume of transactions and the need for real-time accuracy, manual data entry isn't a viable option. 

Choose an automation tool that can seamlessly link your accounting software with your ecommerce platform, streamlining data transfer and minimizing the risk of errors.

5. Regular Review and Update of Accounts

Regular review and updating of your accounts is crucial. Stay on top of daily transactions, monitor your cash flow, review your financial reports, and regularly reconcile your accounts. 

This ongoing maintenance is essential for accurate financial management and early detection of any issues or discrepancies.

6. Plan for Taxes

Given the complex nature of tax regulations in ecommerce, especially for businesses operating across multiple jurisdictions, strategic tax planning is a must. 

Understand your tax obligations, ensure accurate and timely tax filings, and look for legal ways to minimize your tax liability.

7. Regular Financial Analysis

Regular financial analysis enables you to understand your business's financial performance and make informed business decisions. 

Analyze key financial metrics, compare your performance against industry benchmarks, and use these insights to drive business growth and profitability.

What does an Ecommerce accountant do?

Strategic tax planning 

Given the global nature of ecommerce, they must navigate a complex array of tax regulations across multiple jurisdictions. 

They provide guidance on tax obligations, ensure tax compliance, and help develop strategies to minimize tax liability, taking into account the unique aspects of ecommerce sales tax.

Specialist reporting

Ecommerce businesses generate vast amounts of data, and an ecommerce accountant must be adept at turning this data into actionable insights. 

They prepare and present detailed financial reports, helping the business to understand its financial performance and make data-driven decisions.

Financial Benchmarking

They analyze key financial metrics, compare them against industry benchmarks, and provide insights that can help the business improve its financial performance and competitiveness. 

Complex Accounting Tasks

Running financial reports, compiling detailed information related to inventory purchases, operating expenses, and revenue. 

This deep dive into the financial details enables them to provide comprehensive insights into the business's financial health.

What to Look for in an Ecommerce Accountant

Ecommerce Experience and Familiarity with Platforms

Your accountant should have significant experience in the ecommerce industry and understand its unique financial challenges, like sales tax compliance and global transactions. 

Familiarity with your ecommerce platforms (e.g., Shopify, WooCommerce, Amazon) is vital, as they need to extract and interpret financial data effectively.

Strong Understanding of Tax Laws and Global Transactions

Given the complex nature of tax in ecommerce accounting, it's crucial that your accountant is well-versed in applicable tax laws, especially those related to online sales and international transactions.

Proficiency in Handling High Volume of Transactions and Complex Data

Ecommerce businesses often deal with large volumes of transactions and complex datasets. Your accountant should be comfortable handling these aspects, ensuring every transaction is logged and every data piece correctly interpreted.

Typical Accounting Methods for Ecommerce Sellers

Cash vs Accrual Accounting

Cash Basis Accounting

Cash basis accounting is a straightforward method where you record revenue when cash is received, and expenses when they are paid. This method is simple and gives a clear picture of how much cash your business has at any given time.

However, it might not accurately reflect your business's financial health if you have significant accounts receivable or payable. For example, if you've made many sales (accounts receivable) but haven't yet been paid, cash basis accounting would understate your revenue.

Accrual Accounting

Accrual accounting records revenues and expenses when they are earned or incurred, regardless of when the cash is actually received or paid. 

This gives a more accurate picture of your business's financial health over the long term, especially if you deal with credit transactions, inventory, and assets.

For instance, if you make a sale on credit, you would record the revenue even before receiving the payment. While this method is more complex than cash basis accounting, it provides a more comprehensive view of your company's financial situation.

Hybrid Accounting

Some ecommerce businesses use a hybrid of cash and accrual accounting. They might use accrual accounting for inventory and cost of goods sold (COGS), and cash accounting for income and expenses. 

This approach can provide a balance between simplicity and an accurate picture of a company's financial health.

Spreadsheets for ecommerce accounting

As a starting point for ecommerce accounting spreadsheets offer a familiar and accessible tool. Spreadsheets, like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel, are versatile and can be customized to track various financial data pertinent to an ecommerce business.

When using spreadsheets for ecommerce accounting, you'll find they offer a certain level of flexibility. They allow you to set up your financial tracking system in a way that suits your specific business model. 

You can create separate sheets for different categories of financial data, such as sales, expenses, inventory, taxes, and more. Moreover, spreadsheets allow you to create custom formulas to perform calculations automatically, saving you the effort of manual computation.

Screen with Excel on it

Problems with spreadsheets for ecommerce accounting

Human Error

With manual data entry being the norm, it's all too easy to make mistakes in data input, formula calculations, or data analysis. These errors can lead to inaccurate financial reports and potentially costly financial decisions.

The complexity of Accounting for eCommerce Businesses

As your business expands, you may start to sell on multiple platforms, deal with different currencies, manage a large inventory, and navigate complex tax laws across multiple jurisdictions. 

Spreadsheets may struggle to handle these complexities and keep up with the pace and volume of transactions in real-time.

Lack of Automation

Although you can create formulas to perform automatic calculations, many other tasks require manual effort. This can be particularly problematic when dealing with high transaction volumes common in ecommerce businesses.

Spreadsheets Lack Robust Security Features 

This makes them vulnerable to data loss or unauthorized access. This lack of security can be a significant concern, given the sensitive financial data you're likely to store in your ecommerce accounting spreadsheet.

Limited Integration

Spreadsheets often lack the integration capabilities needed to sync data efficiently with ecommerce platforms, payment processors, and other tools you might use in your business operations. This can lead to inefficiencies and inconsistencies in your financial data.

Must-Know Financial Metrics for Accounting for Ecommerce

Graphs on Screen Graphic Art

Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)

The Cost of Goods Sold, or COGS, is a vital metric for any ecommerce business. It refers to the direct costs incurred in producing the goods sold by a company. This includes the cost of materials and direct labor costs used to produce the goods. 

It excludes indirect expenses such as distribution costs and sales force costs. Keeping a close eye on COGS helps to accurately calculate gross profit and set pricing strategies.

Gross Profit

Gross profit is the revenue remaining after subtracting the COGS from total sales. It provides an overview of how effectively a company is using its resources (materials and labor) to produce and sell products. A high gross profit means the cost of producing goods is relatively low compared to the sales price, which is generally a positive indicator of business health.

Gross Margins

Gross margin is a ratio, often expressed as a percentage, that shows the proportion of money left over from revenues after accounting for the COGS. Gross margin is a good indicator of how profitable a company is at the most fundamental level. 

A higher gross margin percentage is generally better, indicating that the company makes more profit on each dollar of sales and has more money to cover basic operating costs.

Operating Expenses

Operating expenses include costs associated with the day-to-day operations of a business, such as rent, utilities, and payroll. Keeping track of these expenses is essential for managing your business's budget and calculating net profit.

Net Profit Margin

Net profit margin is the percentage of revenue remaining after all costs, expenses, and taxes have been deducted. It provides a clear view of your company's overall profitability and efficiency in managing its resources.

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

In ecommerce, it's also essential to understand your Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), which is the total cost of marketing and sales efforts divided by the number of new customers acquired. This helps to determine the effectiveness of your marketing efforts and the viability of your business model.

Key financial statements to know for ecommerce sellers

Income Statement

The income statement, also known as the profit and loss statement, provides a summary of your business's revenues, costs, and expenses over a specific period. It shows how much money your ecommerce business has made or lost during that time. 

For an ecommerce seller, the income statement helps to track revenues from sales, costs of goods sold (COGS), operating expenses, tax expenses, and net income.

Balance Sheet

The balance sheet gives a snapshot of your business's financial position at a particular point in time. It shows:

  • what your business owns (assets), 
  • what it owes (liabilities),
  • and the difference between the two (equity). 

You can create formulas to perform automatic calculations, many other tasks require manual effort. This can be particularly problematic when dealing with high transaction volumes common in ecommerce businesses. 

The time and effort spent on manual data entry and reconciliation can become overwhelming For an ecommerce business, assets might include cash, inventory, accounts receivable, and equipment. Liabilities could be accounts payable, taxes payable, and loans. The equity represents the owner's investment in the business plus any retained earnings.

Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement records how much cash and cash equivalents enter and leave your business within a given period. 

It's divided into three sections: 

  • Cash flows from operating activities (core business operations)
  • Investing activities (purchase or sale of assets), 
  • Financing activities (obtaining or repaying funds). 

For an ecommerce seller, understanding cash flow is critical to ensure there is enough cash on hand to cover operational costs and invest in business growth.

FAQ on Ecommerce Accounting

How do you record sales in ecommerce?

Sales in ecommerce are recorded when a customer makes a purchase from your online store. Depending on your accounting method (cash or accrual), you record the sale when the payment is received or when the transaction occurs. 

It's essential to include details like the date, item sold, sales amount, sales tax, and payment method.

What are the biggest problems with global ecommerce?

The main issues with global ecommerce include handling different currencies, managing international sales tax and VAT, navigating import/export regulations, dealing with international shipping and customs, and adapting to varying consumer laws and regulations in different countries.

What are considered e-commerce transactions?

Ecommerce transactions refer to any exchange of goods, services, or information across the internet. This includes sales of physical products, digital products, services, and subscriptions from an online store, and transactions on ecommerce platforms like Amazon, eBay, and others.

What is the best way to manage inventory for ecommerce accounting?

The best way to manage inventory for ecommerce accounting is by using a real-time inventory management system that integrates with your accounting software. 

This ensures that you can track inventory levels across different platforms and sales channels, and have accurate information about your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), which directly impacts your financial statements.

Final Thoughts

Ecommerce accounting is a complex yet crucial aspect of running an online business. 

As we've seen, it involves unique challenges such as managing sales tax across different regions, handling multiple currencies, dealing with high volumes of transactions, and navigating the intricacies of digital payments and fraud detection.

However, with a clear understanding of your business's financial needs, the right tools, and possibly the help of a professional ecommerce accountant, these challenges can be effectively managed. 

The use of robust accounting software and automation tools can significantly streamline the process, ensuring accuracy and efficiency.

It's also important to regularly review and update your accounts, plan for taxes, and conduct regular financial analyses. 

Understanding key financial metrics such as COGS, gross profit, gross margins, operating expenses, net profit margin, and CAC is essential to gauge your business's financial health and make informed decisions.

While spreadsheets can be a starting point for ecommerce accounting, they come with their own set of limitations, including the potential for human error, lack of robust security features, and limited integration capabilities. 

As your business grows, you may need to consider more advanced solutions that can handle the increasing complexity and volume of transactions.

In conclusion, while ecommerce accounting may seem daunting, it's an integral part of your business that can provide valuable insights into your financial performance. With the right approach and resources, you can turn it into a strategic tool that drives your business's success.

Make Ecommerce Accounting Simple with Link My Books

Link My Books is a powerful tool that automatically syncs your ecommerce sales data with your accounting software. Whether you're selling on Amazon, eBay, Shopify, or other ecommerce platforms, Link My Books keeps all your financial data organized and accessible.

From tracking your COGS, handling multi-currency transactions, to managing sales tax—Link My Books has got you covered. 

Let Link My Books simplify your ecommerce accounting process and help you focus more on growing your business. Why spend hours managing accounts when you can automate it? Try Link My Books today and experience the difference! Start Your Free Trial Today!

CTA Banner
CTA Reviews

Share this post:

Keep reading

all posts →

Accurate Ecommerce Accounting

Accurate Ecommerce Accounting

On Autopilot

Save time and money by automating your bookkeeping
All sales, refunds, fees and taxes accurately accounted for
Automatic bank deposit matching with Xero & QuickBooks
Built in support for VAT, GST and Sales Tax
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Link My Books - Bookkeeping for e-commerce sales
Xero App Store
Dan Little