Problems of e-commerce from a tax perspective

Hardly any other industry can record such rapid growth in such a short time as e-commerce. This is hardly surprising, given that around 14 million parcels are delivered daily in Germany alone, and the trend has been rising sharply since the beginning of the Corona crisis. Doch genau dieses große Wachstum kann schnell unkontrolliert sein und ruft daher nicht selten das Finanzamt auf den Plan.

Why is it that e-commerce in particular is often targeted by the tax authorities?

E-commerce has never been easier. Today, any entrepreneur can simply share warehouses via corporations like Amazon and not have to worry about rent and the rest. But this is exactly where the danger hides: Those who think they can run their online business “easily and quickly” often forget to take care of proper bookkeeping and this often leads to dramatic consequences.

What exactly needs to be taken into account?

The list of requirements for operating an e-commerce business is extensive. Questions often arise about correct tax registration, VAT registration in EU countries, questions about FBA warehouses and the similar. Invoicing in particular raises special questions in e-commerce: How is the time of performance subject to VAT determined? Which sales are made where? Are deliveries abroad intra-community deliveries or export deliveries?

Answering these questions is often not easy and poses immense challenges, especially for commercial and/or tax laypersons. It is therefore often advisable to consult a tax advisor who has experience with online traders in order to avoid problems in advance.

Special features for deliveries abroad

Progressive global networking offers all entrepreneurs the opportunity to sell their products abroad as well. However, such supplies may be subject to foreign (tax) law and even in the case of supplies within the EU, harmonisation of tax law, in particular VAT, is not a certainty. Often, the entrepreneur must register for VAT purposes in other EU countries and, if necessary, register for VAT. Provide proof of movement.

The so-called delivery thresholds are relevant in this context. From a certain level of turnover onwards, there may be a a VAT liability in the EU foreign country and the entrepreneur’s invoice may therefore no longer show German VAT.

The Amazon Pan-EU process, for example, can have a major impact in this context. With a simple check mark in the settings, the online merchant already agrees to the use of Amazon warehouses in the EU. His goods are therefore not only sent to German warehouses, but can also end up in Poland, Italy or another warehouse. This procedure is of course unobjectionable in itself, but the intra-Community transfer is equated with an intra-Community supply (§ 6a para. 2 UStG). It may therefore be necessary to apply for a VAT identification number in the respective country. It becomes problematic if it is not comprehensible for the trader to which countries his goods are shipped. This is not infrequently the case, as Amazon, for example, does not explicitly communicate the warehouses to which it transports the goods. Instead, the trader must equip himself with appropriate software that detects the shipment and informs the trader about it.

What tools are needed in e-commerce?

It is not only in the above-mentioned pan-process that applications and programmes help to make e-commerce more efficient and lucrative. What a neatly maintained checkout is for the retailer, a digital set-up is for the online retailer. Special software is required especially for the debit-side recording of sales, which are quickly available in large numbers in e-commerce.

Challenging for proper accounting to comply with the GoBD are the frequently used payment methods such as Amazon Pay, Paypal or similar, which regularly do not show an invoice number on the receipts. Manual decoding is almost impossible due to products that are often the same price and, above all, takes too much time and thus puts too much strain on the budget.

Inaccurate or erroneous bookings can have serious consequences, as according to §146 para. 1 S. 1 AO, §239 Para. 2 HGB every business transaction must be fully traceable. If this is not the case, the door is opened for the tax authorities to make additional assessments and this should be avoided at all costs.

We have the know-how to transfer data via interfaces from the shop systems to the DATEV accounting system. Through this significantly more efficient solution, the accounting can be completed more quickly, which saves costs for the entrepreneur.

Overall, an online retailer can hardly do without the use of external merchandise management systems/shop systems such as JTL, Shopify, plentymarkets, Magento, Shopware, WooCommerce or similar software solutions. When choosing the right operating system and the subsequent handling, however, every trader should take expert advice in order to keep the error rate as low as possible.


Online traders in particular run the risk of becoming the target of a (turnover) tax audit by the tax authorities at home but also abroad. If discrepancies are found, the online trader can be threatened with high additional payments, up to and including criminal proceedings, which in the worst case can even lead to insolvency. It is therefore essential to have an expert tax advisor at your side who is familiar with the special issues in e-commerce.

Our tax advisors will be happy to advise you in detail on the subject and provide you with tailor-made solutions for your company. If you are interested, please contact us by e-mail, via the form on our website or by telephone.

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