Most ecommerce merchants are familiar with QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online. Xero, a hosted accounting platform for small businesses, is less known. As a CPA for small-to-midsized ecommerce companies, I prefer Xero, for the reasons set forth in this article.
Xero: Product Overview
Xero was built to be an Internet accounting solution. It is not a streamed down version of desktop software
QuickBooks Online has always felt, to me, like a downsized version of QuickBooks desktop. While the online version has improved, it is not as user friendly as it should be.
QuickBooks desktop provides small-to-midsize businesses with most of their accounting software needs. However, it has to be installed on a hard drive and its cost increases for multiple users. It also requires a server for multiple users. And to share information with a CPA, a merchant must grant access to the server or exchange downloaded files. In addition, QuickBooks forces you to update its software every few years.
All three products — QuickBooks desktop, QuickBooks Online, and Xero — have similar functions, as follows.
- Bank synchronization
- Bank reconciliation
- Accounts payable
- Accounts receivable
- Bill management
- Financial reporting
- Cashflow quick views
- Document sharing
Why I Prefer Xero to QuickBooks Online
If you insist that your accounting software be installed on a hard drive, go with QuickBooks desktop. But if you want to take advantage of technology, invest in an online solution. The best option, in my view, is Xero.
Bank reconciliation made simple. The ease of reconciling bank accounts is the primary difference between Xero and Quick Books Online. The accuracy of your bank account(s) is very important. Money going in and out needs to be recorded in a timely manner.
Both products allow its users to sync bank accounts and download bank transactions. This allows you to match previously recorded transactions with the bank transaction with the click of a button.
But Xero is better three areas.
- Easy dashboard access. When you log into Xero, you immediately go to your dashboard where your bank and credit card accounts are listed. Under each account is a blue tab that tells you to reconcile x number of bank transactions. With this reminder, you are more likely to reconcile a few transactions daily instead of copious transactions at month end.
- Matching transactions. If transactions can’t be matched, Xero offers its best recommendations. QuickBooks Online has more of a search engine for matching transactions.
- “Discuss” tab. On the bank reconciliation screen in Xero, there is a “Discuss” tab for all downloaded bank transactions. If you aren’t sure how to classify something, type a question here and save it. You can then alert your accountant or bookkeeper, and he can tell you how it should be classified. It’s easier to do it right the first time instead of fixing later.
Another item that makes reconciling easy is bank rules.
Bank rules. Bank rules define how a bank transaction will be recorded. For example, you can make a bank rule for Staples, the office supply retailer, and all transactions that have this description will automatically be classified as office expense. Xero has had this function for a long time. QuickBooks Online incorporated bank rules only last year. It is one of several examples of QuickBooks Online playing catch up to Xero.
Here is a video explaining how bank reconciliations work in Xero.
Accessibility and collaboration. Business owners should spend the majority of their time increasing revenue, not getting frustrated and being uncertain of their financials. Online accounting systems like Xero allow you to access your accounting records from anywhere at anytime. All you need is Internet access.
If you do your bookkeeping, your accountant can now access your information in real time. If you outsource your bookkeeping to an accountant, both of you can see the same information at the same time.
Either way, having your accounting system online allows for quicker and easier communication. Financial decisions and discussions happen sooner because information is shared faster due to the ease of accessibility.
Add-ons. No accounting system is perfect, in my experience. Every business is different and has its own accounting needs. To help businesses create the best accounting system, Xero and QuickBooks Online have add-ons, which are third-party extensions that increase functionality.
Xero claims, on its website, 350 plus add-ons. QuickBooks Online doesn’t state the number of add-ons. It’s almost certainly much smaller than Xero.
Popular ecommerce add-ons for Xero are Stitch Labs (inventory management), Shopify, PayPal, and Magento.
Files. As a CPA providing outsourced accounting services, “Files” is my favorite Xero function. Each Xero account has a unique email address to send electronic documents for storage and for attaching to transactions. If you don’t want to email a document, just drag and drop into Files or attach it to a bank transaction.
From Files, you can attach a bill to an accounts payable transaction or a receipt to a bank transaction. Xero Files allows you to keep all accounting documents in one place and attach documents to specific transactions for easy reference.
For those who outsource their accounting, you no longer need to mail or scan copious documents at month end. As you collect documents, email them to Xero Files. If you have debit or credit card receipts, take a picture of them with your phone and email them to Xero files.
Prices and users. Xero’s monthly cost depends on the version. The “Starter” plan is $9 per month. The “Standard” plan, which includes unlimited transactions and payroll for up to five employees, is the most popular, at $30 per month. The “Premium” plan, which allows for multiple currencies and payroll for up to 10 employees, is $70 per month. All of Xero’s prices include multiple users. In other words, you don’t have t additional expense to add users.
For QuickBooks Online, there is the “Simple Start” plan, at $12.95 per month for one user. “Essentials” is $26.95 per month for three users. The “Plus” plan is $39.95 per month for up to five users.
Try Both Options
For my CPA firm, we think Xero is a much better solution. But try each option before you decide. Both offer free 30-day trials.
Enter a few test entries to try each product — not a full month’s transactions, just enter a few test entries. Create some fake invoices, bills, and checks. After doing this in each product, you should have an understanding of each one, to make an informed choice.