FIFO Method: First In First Out & Why It Matters?

Uncover the workings of the FIFO method, its impact on inventory management, and why it matters to your ecommerce business.

Jim Sharkey
July 10, 2023
Demonstrating FIFO

Effective inventory management is one of the most critical factors for the success of ecommerce businesses. One widely used method is “first in, first out” (FIFO), which ensures that the oldest inventory is sold or used first. 

This comprehensive guide will explore the FIFO method's significance in inventory accounting. We’ll also discuss its impact on inventory flow, costs, financial reporting, and taxes. 

Understanding and utilizing the FIFO method can streamline inventory management and improve financial performance for ecommerce companies.

What Is the FIFO Method?

Inventory management plays a vital role in the smooth operation of ecommerce businesses. Many businesses use FIFO because it prioritizes the sale or use of the oldest inventory items before the newer ones. Doing so ensures that the inventory is rotated efficiently, minimizing the risk of obsolescence, spoilage, or reduced value due to age.

At its core, the FIFO method maintains the natural flow of goods, mirroring the chronological order in which they were received. It involves selling or consuming the items that arrived first, hence the name: first in, first out. 

The approach is particularly relevant in industries with critical product quality and expiration dates, such as food, pharmaceuticals, and perishable goods.

Implementing the FIFO method affects inventory costs, specifically calculating the cost of goods sold (COGS)

As the oldest inventory items are sold first, their associated costs are recognized in the COGS, leading to a more accurate reflection of the true cost of goods sold during a given period. This enables businesses to calculate their gross profit and net income more accurately.

In the context of FIFO, key terms to understand include "oldest inventory," which refers to the goods or items received earliest, and "inventory items," which encompass all the products available for sale or use. 

Additionally, phrases such as "first goods" and "first items" highlight the principle of selling or consuming the oldest items before moving on to newer ones.

How Does FIFO Differ from Other Inventory Valuation Methods?

The FIFO method distinguishes itself from other standard inventory valuation methods, such as the “last in, first out method” (LIFO) and the “average cost method.” 

The key concept in the LIFO method is the "last in" inventory, which refers to the most recent goods received. This approach assumes that the most recent inventory items are sold or used first, leaving the older inventory in stock. In contrast, FIFO focuses on using or selling the "first in" inventory, ensuring it doesn't accumulate for extended periods.

When comparing FIFO with LIFO, it’s important to note that LIFO generally results in a lower net income during rising costs, as the cost of the most recently acquired inventory is assigned to the cost of goods sold. 

Conversely, FIFO typically leads to a higher net income and higher profit during rising costs, as the older, lower-cost inventory is recognized in the COGS.

The “average cost method” differs slightly from FIFO and LIFO. The way it works is to calculate the average cost of all inventory items and assign it to the cost of goods sold. This approach is commonly used when individual inventory costs are not easily identifiable or when frequent price fluctuations occur.

When comparing FIFO with the average cost method, FIFO provides a more accurate reflection of the actual costs associated with inventory. The average cost method simplifies the valuation process by assigning an average cost to all inventory items, which may not accurately represent the actual cost of specific items.

How Does FIFO Impact Financial Reporting and Taxes?

The FIFO method has significant implications for financial reporting, particularly concerning the balance sheet and income statement. By prioritizing the sale or use of older inventory items, FIFO accounting affects inventory valuation and COGS calculation. This, in turn, influences critical financial metrics and ratios.

On the balance sheet, the inventory value is reported at the cost of the oldest items in stock. As a result, the balance sheet reflects a more accurate representation of the current inventory value, which is essential for assessing a company's overall financial health and liquidity.

The income statement calculates the COGS using the cost of the oldest inventory items. By matching the oldest costs with the revenue generated from the sale of goods, FIFO provides a more accurate reflection of the costs directly associated with generating sales. This results in a higher gross profit and, consequently, a higher net income.

The connection between FIFO and COGS is particularly significant for businesses that experience rising product costs. As the older, lower-cost inventory is sold first under FIFO, the COGS and total cost of goods remain lower than methods such as LIFO. This can lead to increased profitability and a higher net income, making FIFO an attractive option for businesses operating in inflationary environments.

For tax purposes, FIFO's impact on income taxes is based on the principle that higher profitability may result in higher taxable income. As FIFO tends to generate higher net income due to its effect on the COGS, it can potentially lead to higher tax liabilities for businesses. 

Why Is FIFO Important for Inventory Management?

FIFO is crucial in managing older and newer inventory in ecommerce businesses. By prioritizing the sale or use of older inventory items, FIFO helps prevent the accumulation of stagnant or obsolete stock, reducing the risk of inventory write-offs and financial losses.

In industries where lot control and expiration dates are significant factors, such as the food and pharmaceutical sectors, FIFO is essential. By ensuring that the oldest inventory items are consumed or sold first, FIFO helps manage expiration dates and reduces the likelihood of products becoming unsellable due to expiration.

Managing perishable items and products with expiration dates is critical for maintaining product quality, customer satisfaction, and inventory value. FIFO aids in this regard by minimizing the time perishable goods spend in inventory, reducing the chances of spoilage or product deterioration.

Moreover, FIFO influences the inventory balance and value. The quantity and value of the remaining items are updated more accurately, using the oldest inventory first. This enables businesses to make informed decisions regarding reordering, production planning, and inventory investment, improving efficiency and cost management.

How Does FIFO Conform to Accounting Standards?

FIFO is widely accepted and compliant with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). These accounting standards provide guidelines for businesses to ensure consistent and transparent financial reporting.

As an accepted accounting method, FIFO aligns with consistency, reliability, and relevance in financial reporting. It accurately reflects the flow of inventory and the cost of goods sold, providing a faithful representation of a company's financial position and performance.

Accountants, financial professionals, and Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) recognize the FIFO inventory valuation method as legitimate and reliable. It adheres to the fundamental accounting principle of matching costs with revenues and enables businesses to present financial statements that fairly represent their financial condition.

From a CPA perspective, FIFO is considered a robust and suitable method for inventory management. It offers better conformity with financial reporting standards, accurately reflects inventory costs, and enhances the reliability of financial statements. CPAs can provide valuable insights and guidance on implementing and optimizing FIFO in specific business contexts.

How Can Businesses Effectively Implement FIFO?

Implementing FIFO requires attention to detail and a well-structured inventory management system. 

Here are some practical tips for small business owners:

  1. Set up an inventory system: Invest in an inventory management system that supports FIFO. Such systems can track the arrival and usage of inventory items, measure unit cost, calculate the cost of inventory, and generate reports.
  2. Understand the natural flow of inventory: Ensure that your inventory is organized and stored to allow for easy identification and retrieval of older items. Arrange the stock in a way that facilitates the FIFO principle. Any differences between the beginning inventory and ending inventory should be easily explained. 
  3. Train employees: Educate your staff on the importance of FIFO and provide training on proper handling and rotating inventory. Emphasize the significance of adhering to expiration dates and quality control measures.
  4. Periodic inventory audits: Conduct regular audits to verify the accuracy of inventory records and identify any discrepancies or potential issues. This helps maintain the integrity of the FIFO system and ensures accurate financial reporting.

The Bottom Line on FIFO

In conclusion, understanding and utilizing FIFO is crucial for efficient inventory management and financial benefits in ecommerce. 

FIFO improves financial reporting accuracy, manages older and newer inventory, and minimizes risks with perishable items. It aligns with accounting standards like GAAP and IFRS. To implement FIFO effectively, invest in an inventory management system, educate staff, and establish a structured inventory flow. 

Mochila offers expertise in ecommerce fulfillment and personalized client relationships, making us a valuable partner. Explore the possibilities of FIFO and unlock its benefits for your business. Take control of your inventory, enhance financial reporting, and drive growth. 

Consider partnering with Mochila to optimize your inventory management. Embrace FIFO and achieve success in your ecommerce venture.


What Is The FIFO Method? FIFO Inventory Guide | Forbes Advisor

Inventory Management Defined, Plus Methods and Techniques | Investopedia 

Cost of Goods Sold (COGS): Definition and How to Calculate It | NerdWallet

Last In, First Out (LIFO): The Inventory Cost Method Explained | Investopedia

What Is the Average Cost Method? How To Calculate & Example | Fit Small Business

GAAP: Understanding It and the 10 Key Principles | Investopedia

What Are International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)? | Investopedia

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