Perpetual vs Periodic Inventory: The Best Inventory Type for Your Business

If you’re a business owner, whether new or established, you know there’s a lot you need to keep track of: your employees’ hours, customer reviews, cash flow, and so much more. And don’t forget the central item your company runs on—your inventory. Without an inventory, you won’t have any products to sell to your customers, and therefore no business at all. When it comes to inventory, you may feel overwhelmed keeping track of everything that’s coming in and going out. In order to stay on top of all your assets, you need to invest in the proper inventory system. In the business world, there are two popular ways to track inventory: perpetual and periodic inventory. Both inventory systems do a great job at monitoring inventory and ensuring you’re not miscounting items or losing money. However, both come with different pros and cons that are important to consider depending on your type of business. To learn more about the difference between perpetual and periodic inventory and how perpetual and periodic inventory systems work, continue reading below.

Perpetual vs Periodic Inventory Systems: Overview

Perpetual vs periodic inventory systems are the two inventory tracking systems used by small business and large business owners alike. Both work by keeping you up to date on the status of your business’s merchandise, items, materials, and other assets. However, the main difference between perpetual vs periodic inventory systems is when inventory is accounted for. Perpetual inventory systems track inventory as you go. So, with every transaction, whether a purchase or return, a perpetual inventory system will record it. This means you’ll always stay up to date with what you have in stock and which items may be running low. On the other hand, a periodic inventory system updates your inventory records on a periodic basis at the end of an operating cycle, whether weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually. This system requires a physical count of inventory to determine the cost of goods sold and ending inventory. Keeping an accurate track of inventory is important for all businesses, as it is an essential step when you create a budget and maintain proper accounting records. Below, we’ll go over both perpetual and periodic inventory systems in depth, so you can determine which one best suits your business needs.

Periodic Inventory Systems

Of the two inventory systems, the periodic inventory system is the simpler one. As previously stated, the periodic inventory system does not keep track of a company’s inventory on a daily basis. Instead, a periodic inventory system tracks inventory at the end of an accounting period, whether it’s weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually. A business using a periodic inventory system must count inventory by hand, which requires companies to close their shop for a set period of time to take count, or set aside hours after work to take count. This process can be time-consuming, especially if a company has a lot of inventory to count. With a periodic inventory system, a company must determine the cost of goods sold (COGS). To calculate the COGS, a business must follow this formula: Cost of Goods Sold = Beginning Inventory + Inventory Purchases – Ending Inventory For example, let’s say a small natural foods store begins the quarter with $350,000 of inventory. During the three months of the quarter, the natural foods store buys an additional $100,000 of inventory. At the end of the quarter, the employees do a physical count of the store’s inventory and find there’s an ending inventory of $275,000. That means the COGS for the first quarter is $175,000 (350,000 + 100,000 – 275,000). The downside of a periodic inventory system is that it does not give a fully accurate depiction of the COGS because it is only calculated at the end of the accounting period. During the accounting period, whether weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually, the business will not have inventory counts in real-time. This makes it difficult to forecast and determine when products need to be reordered and find discrepancies such as lost, stolen, or damaged items. At the end of an accounting period, a company will need to make adjustments to their account entries in order for its inventory and cost of goods sold to match. However, the periodic inventory system is suitable for a variety of businesses and scenarios. Some examples include:
  • New small businesses that can’t afford a perpetual inventory system
  • An art gallery that only sells a limited amount of paintings or artwork a year
  • A furniture or mattress store with limited inventory
  • Car dealerships with a small inventory to keep track of
  • Jewelry stores and other stores with limited, but high-value items

Perpetual Inventory Systems

When it comes to small business accounting, perpetual inventory systems may be the smarter choice in many cases. A perpetual inventory system keeps track of a company’s inventory daily after every transaction is made. This allows businesses to know how much inventory is in stock, along with the cost of goods sold at any given moment. Without having to wait until the end of an accounting period to see how much inventory is left, a business will be able to maintain accurate records. With accurate records, a business will be able to decide when to order inventory in order to prevent stockouts (when items are no longer available), and overstocking (when too many items are ordered). However, both stockouts and overstocking present their own problems. For example, running out of inventory can cause you to lose sales if customers are looking for that specific item. Conversely, you can lose money from overstocking due to the cost of holding items. Let’s say you own a grocery store and overstock on perishable items like fruits and vegetables. You can lose a substantial amount of money on inventory that has gone to waste if you overstock. With a perpetual inventory system, you’ll be able to keep track of all of your inventory to maintain a healthy balance. This is done by utilizing computerized software and a point-of-sale system that tracks every transaction, such as purchases and returns. This will give you more time to conduct business, rather than having to close up shop or work after hours to count inventory. However, perpetual inventory systems do require at least one physical count of inventory a year to compare physical inventory to the inventory tracked in the software. For both periodic and perpetual inventory systems, it’s worth investing in a loss prevention system to combat theft and burglary. Your inventory can be seriously impacted from items being stolen, especially if they’re big ticket items. So, security cameras, burglar alarms, and other measures can help ensure your valuable assets are protected and secure.

Key Differences Between Perpetual and Periodic Inventory Systems

Now that you know what perpetual inventory systems and periodic inventory systems are, it’s time to understand the key differences between the two. Both come with their own pros and cons, which are important to consider when choosing one for your business. Here are the differences between perpetual vs periodic inventory systems, including their pros and cons: Periodic Inventory Systems:
  • Pro: Periodically tracks inventory balances either weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually
  • Pro: One journal entry is made when there’s a sale transaction
  • Pro: Does not require inventory software
  • Pro: Typically used by businesses with few inventory units, such as art galleries and jewelers
  • Pro: Cheaper and requires less work
  • Con: Difficult to identify errors and discrepancies, such as loss, theft, and damage
  • Con: Unaware of inventory quantity until the accounting period ends
  • Con: Requires a closing entry
  • Con: Difficult to forecast and reorder items
  • Con: Provides little control over inventory
Perpetual Inventory Systems:
  • Pro: Keeps continuous track of all inventory balances with every sale or transaction
  • Pro: Two journal entries are made when there’s a sale transaction
  • Pro: Does not require a closing entry
  • Pro: Can easily forecast and reorder items
  • Pro: Typically used by businesses with a lot of inventory units, like grocery stores or office suppliers.
  • Pro: Provides control over inventory due to up-to-date tracking
  • Pro: Easier to identify errors such as loss, theft, and damage
  • Con:Technology is expensive and requires trained personnel
  • Con: Requires a physical count of inventory once a year
  • Con: Requires inventory software
Despite the differences between perpetual and periodic inventory systems, both are accepted methods by the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) set forth by the Financial Accounting Standards Board. These standards set the procedures and practices companies and accountants should follow when completing financial statements.

How Community Tax can Help With Your Accounting Services

As you know, running a business is a lot of work, and inventory tracking is just one of the many things you need to stay on top of as a business owner. If finances aren’t your strong suit, or if you’d rather spend more time on the front lines with your employees working with customers, it may be time to invest in an accounting service. At Community Tax, our CPAs, bookkeepers, and accountants meet the highest standards to deliver an excellent experience. With Community Tax’s accounting services, you’ll have more time to run your business while our team takes care of your tax preparation, bookkeeping, and accounting. We’ll make sure all of your financial statements are completed correctly to help your business succeed. And, if you just need help with a one-time project, we’ll help with that too.

Takeaways on Perpetual vs Periodic Inventory Systems

Perpetual and periodic inventory systems are the two most common inventory tracking systems used by businesses. Both allow companies to get an understanding of their inventory and maintain accurate accounting records. However, it’s important to know the difference between perpetual and periodic inventory systems as each may work differently for various types of companies. With this guide handy and Community Tax by your side, you’ll be able to focus on your business with peace of mind knowing you have an accurate record of what’s going in and out of your doors.