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A Primer on eCommerce Accounting for Business Owners [+Actionable Checklist]

by | Jun 15, 2023 | E-Commerce Accounting

Introduction to eCommerce Accounting Practices in Canada

Imagine this: It’s a crisp fall day in Toronto, and you, an ambitious entrepreneur, have just launched your first eCommerce store. Maple leaves are falling, and so are the barriers between you and your dreams. But wait! As orders start rolling in, you quickly realize there’s more to running an eCommerce business than meets the eye. You’ve suddenly plunged into a world where the words “accounting” and “bookkeeping” reign supreme. Don’t worry; this guide is here to be your lifeboat in the vast sea of eCommerce accounting. We will delve into the importance of accounting and bookkeeping, different types of accounting methods, and the essential tasks and best practices to ensure your eCommerce business thrives.

Accounting Vs Bookkeeping: What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter?

Picture accounting and bookkeeping as two inseparable siblings. Bookkeeping is the younger, detail-oriented one, who meticulously records every financial transaction. Accounting, on the other hand, is the elder sibling, using the data recorded by Bookkeeping to create financial models, analyze trends, and offer insights for decision-making.

Key Differences:
  • Purpose: Bookkeeping is about recording transactions accurately, whereas Accounting is about interpreting, analyzing, and summarizing financial data.
  • Skills Required: Bookkeeping involves basic arithmetic and attention to detail; Accounting requires more strategic analysis and understanding of complex financial concepts.

Understanding this distinction is critical because it affects how you manage your financial information. While bookkeeping ensures that records are accurate and complete, accounting allows you to make sense of that data to make strategic decisions.

Why Do You Need Bookkeeping & Accounting for Your eCommerce Business?

Understanding the financial health of your business is not just crucial; it’s indispensable! Bookkeeping helps you keep a neat record of all transactions, which is vital for regulatory compliance. Accounting takes it a step further by helping you understand these records, so you can make informed decisions that propel your business forward.

Furthermore, accurate ecommerce accounting is essential for tax planning, securing investments, and managing business growth. Investors and stakeholders will often request financial statements to gauge the health of your business. Without proper accounting practices, you won’t be able to provide this essential information.

Types of Accounting for eCommerce Businesses

When it comes to accounting methods, eCommerce businesses have a few options to choose from. Here’s a deeper dive:

  1. Cash Basis Accounting: This is when you record revenue when you receive cash and expenses when you pay them. This method is simple and commonly used by small businesses. However, it might not always provide the most accurate picture of your financial health if there’s a time-lag between earning revenue and receiving cash.
  2. Accrual Accounting: This involves recording revenue and expenses when they are earned and incurred, respectively. This method gives a more accurate financial picture but is more complex. This is generally recommended for businesses that have inventory or offer credit to customers.
  3. Hybrid Method: A combination of cash and accrual methods. This option allows for flexibility. Choose based on your business needs and the regulatory requirements in your jurisdiction.

Things You Need to Start Accounting for Your eCommerce Business in Canada

Before you dive into the accounting world, here’s an expanded checklist of what you need:

  • Incorporate the business with a lawyer or online using Ownr.co.
  • Register the business with Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and understand the tax implications.
  • Open business bank accounts and credit cards, ideally in multiple currencies. It’s essential for eCommerce businesses that deal with international transactions.
  • Bonus – Look into opening a virtual bank accounting with Wise, Loop, etc., to streamline cross-border transactions and minimize fees.
  • Engage an accounting firm and decide on your scope of work. Be sure to discuss the unique aspects of your eCommerce business.
  • Setup accounting software (e.g., Xero, QuickBooks). This is essential for keeping your financial records organized.
  • Ensure sales tax settings are set up properly on your eCommerce platforms – Shopify, Amazon, WalMart, Etsy, and more. This is crucial for compliance with tax laws.

Key Accounting Tasks to Do

Be Up-to-Date About the Applicable Business and Sales Taxes in Canada
  • Understand GST/HST, PST, and other relevant taxes. Knowing the tax landscape in Canada is essential for compliance and avoiding fines.
  • Register for a business number and set up tax accounts. This is a requirement for doing business in Canada.
Create a Demand Forecast
  • Most eCommerce businesses have some peaks during the year. Moreover, you will need to order inventory from your supplier well in advance to get the goods ready for fulfillment. A demand forecast helps you anticipate sales and prepare accordingly.
  • Use historical data and market research to create more accurate forecasts. This will enable you to make smarter purchasing and staffing decisions.
Tie your Demand Forecast to your Cash Flow Forecast
  • Your Demand Forecast will tell you when you need to place orders with your suppliers and pay for those orders. This puts strain on your cash flow before you realize the profits from your sales. Build this into your Cash Forecast so that you can plan for cash injection through Debt or Equity.

Accounting Best Practices for eCommerce Businesses in Canada

  1. Use Cloud-Based Accounting Software: Cloud-based tools offer accessibility and real-time data, which are invaluable for eCommerce businesses. This way, you can keep track of your accounts from anywhere.
  2. Regularly Reconcile Your Accounts: Regular reconciliations are essential to ensure that your records match your bank statements. This helps in catching errors early and maintaining accurate financial records.
  3. Understand and Comply with Tax Regulations: Stay updated on tax laws and ensure compliance to avoid penalties. If you’re selling internationally, be sure to understand the tax implications in the countries you operate in.
  4. Outsource When Necessary: Don’t hesitate to hire professionals for complex accounting tasks. It’s often more cost-effective in the long run to have experts handle your accounting needs.
  5. Monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Keep an eye on metrics like gross margin, customer lifetime value, inventory turnover, sales by channel, sales by country, customer acquisition cost, and more. These KPIs can offer insights into your business’s performance and help in making informed decisions.
  6. Stay Organized and Document Everything: Keep all your receipts, invoices, and financial documents well-organized. This will make tax time much easier and ensure you have documentation if ever audited.


Remember our fall day in Toronto? With this comprehensive guide in your arsenal, you can now watch the maple leaves fall as your eCommerce business rises. By understanding and implementing effective eCommerce accounting practices, you will ensure that your business remains financially healthy and compliant with Canadian regulations. This is not just about crunching numbers; it’s about steering your eCommerce ship with confidence and clarity. Surround yourself with the right tools and professionals, and never underestimate the power of proper accounting in your journey to success.

Take a deep breath. You’ve got this. And whenever you need a refresher, come back to this guide. Your eCommerce journey has just begun, and the horizon is limitless.

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