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Accounting Tips for Retail Stores

July 26th, 2022 | 6 min. read

By Bryan Cremeen

Beautiful casual woman shopping at a retail store.jpeg

If you manage a small retail store, you know that it’s critical to keep good records. However, between cash flow, inventory, payroll, and many other things you may find important to monitor for your store, it can be challenging to keep track of your operations. This is especially true if you are managing them on your own.

CSI Accounting & Payroll has worked with many retail stores over the past few decades, so we know what good retail store accounting should look like. These five retail accounting tips will help you:

  • Get insight into the cost of your operations
  • Make the most of your next tax season
  • Clarify if you’re making or losing money
  • Highlight future opportunities to enhance your business

woman shopping at a retail storeAccounting Tips for Retail Stores

1. Monitor Your Profit Margins

Many retail stores lose money because the markup on products is too low. In every retail industry, we see new people who underprice everything because they think low prices will be how they can compete and gain market share. This isn't necessarily true; markups can add perspective value to your products as well.

  • Your markup should cover your expenses - that includes labor and rent, too. However, it should be relative to your competitors' prices.
  • Margins need to be on products and payroll.
  • Buy smart! The better your bargaining power for obtaining inventory, the larger your profit margin is when you sell it. This can also mean buying in larger quantities, buying from different vendors, or getting payment terms to mark up and sell inventory before you have to pay for it, if possible.
  • Shipping eats into your margins. Shipping expenses have grown with the increase of online stores. Avoid offering free shipping, especially as a smaller retail store.

2. Keep Track of Your Cash Flow

Whether you use QuickBooks, Xero, or another software solution, you know that keeping track of cash flow is critical for keeping your retail store in the black. With money flowing in and out of your business through multiple channels, it’s sometimes hard to tell at a glance if your business is profitable.

  • Make sure you have a handle on your accounts payable (and accounts receivable, if you have any).
  • Keep some cash in reserve so your business has time to recover if you experience a shortfall. Note how much cash comes in on an average weekly basis. Even if you have a slow week, you still need to buy product.
  • Note the bills that are due in the next 30 days, and always have enough cash to cover that amount. 

3. Manage Your Inventory

If you have cash flowing in, chances are, there are probably retail products flowing out. It’s important to keep a steady supply of your products available, but it can be difficult to predict how fast your product will sell and how popular it will be.

  • Invest in a good retail inventory system to help you avoid empty shelves or overstocking. Aim for POS systems that have inventory tracking, such as Lightspeed, Fishbowl, and Shopify.
  • When setting up your system, account for products that take longer to restock or have historically been back ordered to avoid losing money while you wait for more units to arrive.

4. Plan for Seasonal Fluctuations

If your retail store is in a seasonal location or sells a seasonal product, you’re used to a rollercoaster sales cycle. You also know that staying one step ahead of the game is especially crucial for the limited time you have. To stay competitive, make sure you’re staying up to speed on trends in your industry, especially as you begin stocking for the season ahead. Planning for the end of your season is critical as well.

  • Establish a streamlined system for end-of-season discounts so you have a way to move excess inventory quickly.
  • Implement stricter return policies than year-round stores to avoid getting stuck with a glut of returns at the end of your season.
  • Understand what your monthly fixed costs are so you can adequately account to cover them during slow seasons.

5. Hire an Accountant

Smaller retail companies often begin by hiring an annual accounting service to assist with annual tax preparation. However, once you are a more established company or are interested in planning for success further down the road, it is usually a better option to begin outsourcing monthly accounting. You can look into big-name online accounting services as well if you feel they may be a better fit for you than a local firm.

Retail is an industry that particularly needs help from an accountant because of inventory needs.

Often retail stores will go out of business because their inventory is too high and they have no cash. Conversely, if their inventory is too low, then they're not maximizing their sales. If a third-party accountant can compare your inventory to your sales, then they can advise you on the right size of inventory for your business. Inventory is directly correlated to your cash flow.

  • Hire a monthly accounting firm to receive the ongoing advice, monthly financial statements, and audit representation you need to keep your business running as smoothly and profitably as possible.

Work With a Retail Accounting Service

Tracking your retail operations on your own is a big task! Performing good retail store accounting means you have the insight you need to track your costs, prepare for the next tax season, clarify if you're being profitable or not, and plan for the future. With these five tips - keep track of your cash flow, manage your inventory, plan for seasonal fluctuations, monitor your profit margins, and hire an accountant - you can do just that!

Wondering if it’s the right time to outsource your accounting? Set up a consultation with CSI Accounting & Payroll today to see how we can help grow your business. We’ll support the financial side of your business. In turn, you’ll be able to focus on your product, your team, and your customers. Don’t wait until your retail needs become too complex to manage – schedule a consultation today by clicking the button below.




Looking to learn more about outsourced accounting first? Read about why you should change accountants and common fears in doing so.

Bryan Cremeen

Bryan joined CSI Accounting in 2019. He joined the team after CSI purchased his accounting firm, AccountSource LLC, which he had owned since 2005. He graduated from St. Cloud State in 2001 with a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting and has been an Enrolled Agent since 2010. Before owning his own accounting practice, Bryan had worked at the State of MN handling financial reporting and had been in private industry as a Controller. His primary responsibilities include overseeing the accounting department and making sure clients are receiving quality service. Fun Fact: Bryan has played soccer since the age of 4. He still plays soccer year round through various adult leagues and is an avid supporter of the Minnesota United MLS soccer team. COYL!!! (Come on, you Loons!!!)