Accounting and Bookkeeping for a Retail Business in Canada

Accounting and Bookkeeping for a Retail Business in Canada

Retail businesses come in various shapes and sizes, but they often share several key characteristics. Understanding these common traits is essential for effectively managing accounting for retail business, and operations and ensuring profitability.

Retail businesses rely on streamlined accounting tools like QuickBooks Online, Dext, A2X and Plooto to manage finances efficiently and ensure profitability. 

In the e-commerce sphere, platforms such as Shopify and WooCommerce integrate seamlessly with accounting software, enabling businesses to thrive by reaching target audiences and optimizing sales through digital marketing strategies and analytics tools.

Setting Up the Accounts

Setting up general ledger accounts for a retail business accounting involves considering several key questions. Firstly, it’s essential to determine the number of retail locations and whether tracking operations by location is necessary. If so, separate divisional or branch accounts must be established for each location to report operations individually. Secondly, deciding the level of detail for tracking sales and margins is crucial. 

This involves creating separate accounts for sales, cost of sales, purchases, and inventory to effectively monitor sales and margins. 

Lastly, understanding the sales taxes to be collected and paid is important. Most retail businesses handle GST/HST and, in some provinces, also collect provincial retail sales taxes (PST). Proper accounting for retail business these taxes is vital for compliance and financial accuracy.


For most retailers, accounting for retail business for inventory stands out as the most crucial bookkeeping task. It involves several key functions:

1. Recording the purchase of inventory.

2. Pricing inventory for sale.

3. Recording when inventory is sold and no longer in stock.

4. Valuing the inventory on hand.

There are two main methods to establish an inventory system: the perpetual inventory system and the periodic inventory system. Additionally, there are various approaches to valuing inventory.

Perpetual and Periodic Inventory Systems

In a perpetual inventory system, the records aim to constantly reflect the current quantity and value of each item in stock. This system tracks quantities and values in real-time.

On the other hand, in a periodic system, inventory quantities and values aren’t tracked daily. Instead, stock is physically counted periodically, and its value is determined accordingly. While a perpetual system offers more timely and theoretically accurate information, it requires significantly more effort to create and maintain compared to a periodic system.

In a perpetual system, every transaction affecting inventory must be meticulously recorded in detail, including purchases, sales, shrinkage, and returns. In contrast, a periodic system requires less effort for day-to-day transactions as only aggregate values are accounted for until a physical count is conducted to reconcile the accounts.

In a perpetual inventory system, occasional physical counts are necessary to verify the accuracy of the accounting system. However, unlike a periodic system where the entire inventory is usually counted at once, a perpetual system often undergoes cycle counts.

During a cycle count, only specific categories of inventory are counted at any given time. Typically, high-value or fast-moving items are counted more frequently, possibly on a monthly basis, while less valuable or slower-moving goods may only be counted annually.

Choosing a System

Most retailers nowadays prefer using a perpetual inventory system, thanks to modern computerized accounting systems. These systems have simplified inventory tracking by specific item. Barcoding, in particular, has significantly eased the process of recording sales and automatically updating inventory without the need for manual input.

However, in cases where goods are easy to count or sales transactions are infrequent, using a periodic inventory system might still be practical. Some long-established businesses, which could benefit from a perpetual system, may hesitate to invest in the necessary systems, processes, and time required to switch over.

Valuing Inventory

Regardless of the inventory recording system used, valuing inventory accurately is crucial for preparing financial statements. According to accounting standards like IAS 2 and ASPE section 3031, inventory must be valued at the lower of cost and net realizable value for financial reporting purposes.

In Canada, income tax rules mandate that inventory valuation methods align with current Canadian GAAP. Consequently, the lower of cost and net realizable value is the only permissible method. Moreover, the income tax system imposes restrictions on how businesses can determine inventory cost.

Valuing inventory at the lower of cost or fair market value typically provides the most conservative measure, impacting reported income accordingly. This method is widely employed due to its conservative approach.


For income tax purposes, there are generally three accepted methods for valuing inventory cost. Firstly, each item can be valued at its specific cost. Secondly, all items can be valued at their average cost. Thirdly, items can be valued based on the assumption that the first items purchased are the first sold, known as the first-in, first-out (FIFO) method.

Although accounting theory acknowledges a fourth method – last-in, first-out (LIFO) – it cannot be used for income tax purposes, and it’s rarely utilized by businesses.

Software typically employs the average cost method for items not individually listed in the inventory, like automobiles identified by Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs). For individually listed items, such as specific products, the specific cost method is utilized.

Fair Market Value

When discussing inventory, fair market value refers to either replacement cost or net realizable value. Replacement cost is the expense of replacing an inventory item, covering all associated costs like freight, duties, sales taxes, and stocking fees. 

Net realizable value, on the other hand, represents the net amount gained from selling the property after considering all sales-related expenses like shipping and commissions.

If goods are sold at a profit (net realizable value exceeds cost) and costs are rising (replacement cost is also higher than cost), fair market value will typically surpass cost. Consequently, businesses often opt not to value inventory at fair market value. Doing so would simply accelerate income recognition and tax payments.

The Retail Method

In the retail industry, there’s another method for valuing inventory accepted for income tax purposes – the retail method.

This method estimates inventory cost by discounting the retail value of inventory by the average margin earned on sales during a period. Here’s how it works:

  1. Calculate the average markup percentage by totaling the retail value of opening inventory and purchases, then dividing it by the total cost of those goods.
  1. Estimate the retail value of ending inventory by totaling the retail value of opening inventory and purchases, adjusting for any markups or markdowns, and subtracting actual sales during the period.
  1. Determine the estimated cost of ending inventory by discounting the retail value by the average markup calculated in the first step.

Although it may seem more complex than tracking actual costs, the retail method can be advantageous for retailers with numerous inventory categories, each with low values but similar margins. This method allows for measuring margins based on either sales or cost, providing useful insights for inventory management.

Bookkeeping for Retail Store

When managing retail accounting, the structure of a retail accountant’s chart depends on factors like the goods sold and operational methods, especially the reporting detail required.

Inventory tracking in retail accounting can be done through perpetual or periodic systems. Inventory valuation is typically based on cost or the lower of cost and fair market value, with distinct definitions for ‘cost’ and ‘fair market value.’

Retail accounting necessitates collection and management of sales taxes, which includes recording transactions, determining tax obligations, and ensuring compliance with tax laws.

Integrating QuickBooks Desktop with Shopify: Key Points to Consider

Planning to integrate your QuickBooks Desktop with Shopify? Here’s a checklist to ensure a smooth setup:

  1. Shopify Account Setup: Ensure your Shopify account is set up with the unique ID or promo code provided to you.
  2. QuickBooks Desktop App Update: Confirm that the latest version of QuickBooks Desktop is installed on your computer.
  3. QuickBooks Desktop Connector for Shopify: Check if the QuickBooks Desktop Connector is active in your Shopify admin. If not, head to the Shopify App Store and add it to your store.
  4. Integration from Designated Device: Initiate the integration process from the same computer where you use QuickBooks Desktop POS.
  5. Data Migration for QuickBooks Desktop POS Users: Complete any data migration in QuickBooks POS before you start integrating with Shopify.
  6. QuickBooks Online Users: If you’re using QuickBooks Online, bypass the QuickBooks Desktop Connector. Instead, integrate directly by adding the QuickBooks Online app to your Shopify store.
  7. One-time Integration Process: Remember, the integration is a one-time process and cannot be redone. Should you need a reset, reach out to the dedicated support team.

By following these steps, you’ll be on your way to a seamless integration of QuickBooks Desktop with your Shopify platform.


What is the retail method in accounting?

Simply put, in accounting the retail method is utilized by sellers to help estimate the value of products in inventory at hand. This refers to COGS as well as finished goods by calculating the cost percentage to the retail price of sold goods.

What is the difference between retail accounting and cost accounting?

Project budgeting is a major focus of retail accounting. This includes keeping track of inventory, sales, and sales tax. Whereas on the other hand, cost accounting covers a broader topic and focuses on analyzing and controlling the costs of a retail business.

Why is accounting important in a retail store?

Accounting is essential in retail store management for numerous factors. It facilitates the monitoring of sales, stock management, value tracking, tax compliance, and, in the long run, the assessment of the organization’s economic standing. Retailers may additionally maximize profitability and keep track of making informed decisions with the support of proper accounting standards.

What are the basics of store accounting?

The fundamentals of store accounting include monitoring income sales, managing stock levels, recording charges including hiring, utilities, and wages, reconciling financial institution statements, and complying with tax responsibilities. Additionally, analyzing financial history and imposing stringent controls are vital to powerful accounting practices.