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What is the Difference Between a Sales Platform and a Payment Platform?

At Bookkeep, we aim to distinguish between a sales platform and a payment platform. Understanding the difference and how they overlap is important.

Sales Platforms

Sales platforms are the foundation of a retail, ecommerce, or restaurant business. In retail or restaurants, this is usually your point-of-sale (POS) system. In ecommerce, it's typically your shopping cart system. Sales platforms have the following in common:

  • They keep detailed information on orders, including:
    • Items sold and prices per item
    • Taxes and the breakdown of tax types as a part of a sale
    • Gratuity collected
    • Discounts on items sold or order-level
    • Payments, broken down by method and amount

Examples of sales platforms for retail include Square, Shopify POS, Lightspeed POS, Toast, and other POS systems.

In ecommerce, common sales platforms are Shopify, Woocommerce, Bigcommerce, Squarespace, Amazon Seller, Etsy, and many more.

Sales platforms have Order Numbers and each order may consist of:

  • Multiple items
  • Multiple tax lines and amounts
  • Multiple payment methods and amounts (yes, an order can have many payment types)

Payment Platforms:

Payment platforms collect payments from customers. The most common are merchant processors that handle credit card transactions.

The only immediate transaction methods for a pure sales platform are cash or check. Other platforms require a merchant account.

A payment platform keeps detailed information on the following:

  • Total amount charged.
  • Reference to the customer (email, last 4 digits of the card number, and other account information)
  • Timestamp and transaction ID.
  • Full payment method details for future reversal

In retail and restaurants, your common payment platforms are your credit card merchant accounts from the likes of Bank of America or Chase, and there are thousands of others. These accounts are connected to your POS system to allow you to swipe a credit card at the register. You must first set up a merchant account for your business in order to be allowed to process credit cards.

In ecommerce, common payment platforms include Stripe, Paypal, Sezzle, and Afterpay.


Payment platforms typically only record the total amount charged for a transaction. They do not track specifics of the order, such as item details, sales taxes, or gratuity, which are essential for comprehensive sales reporting.

Where This Gets Confusing

15 years ago, the distinction was simple: you had a POS system or cash register for sales and a credit card terminal for payments. Nowadays, platforms like Square, Shopify, Paypal, and Stripe offer features of both sales and payment platforms. If your client uses only one of these platforms, it's straightforward to manage their books.

However, using multiple sales platforms and payment methods can complicate reconciliation.

Why? Because Stripe and Paypal can serve as both payment platforms on Woocommerce or Shopify and as sales platforms. Without proper accounting, this can result in duplicate income postings.

The good news is the Bookkeep team is here to help you set this up correctly from the start.