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Xero or QuickBooks Online – the People’s Choice

Last week Intuit published the results of a survey they had commissioned comparing the ease of use of QuickBooks Online (QBO) to Xero with the headline ‘The Numbers Prove It: QuickBooks Online is the People’s Choice’.

Discussions with Nicolette Maury, Managing Director of Intuit Australia provided the following additional details on the survey:

  • 134 people from a range of small businesses participated in the research.
  • The participants had not previously used either Xero or QBO
  • They were each given some key business tasks with instructions to complete using both sets of software.

The study measured:

  • Time to complete
  • Ease of Use
  • Confidence in using the product
  • Visual appeal
  • Overall experience

The study is interesting because a large percentage of small businesses select accounting software based on recommendations from their accountant and I would not expect many accountants to be making a recommendation based on the above factors. Accountants frequently specialise in one small business accounting software package and recommend that to all their clients.

Whilst I am sometimes critical of this approach because the accountant may not consider specifics of the client’s business model, I too don’t particularly consider the above metrics when evaluating or recommending software. I do consider the user interface to be important but other features such as overall functionality, the reporting engine, bank reconciliation and BAS preparation are also important components of a total solution. I have certainly never directly compared the time taken to complete or ease of use of key business tasks between the two products – so time to look at the software with a fresh pair of eyes.

The dashboard that is displayed on initial log in is very different between the products and it all boils down to personal preferences and what you get used to. However for moving beyond the dashboard, QBO had the distinct advantage. There is a clearly and meaningfully labelled navigation bar on the left hand side so I could easily and confidently navigate to the area where I want to go. The navigation bar that runs across the top of Xero is nowhere near as intuitive, requires an extra drill down and has a number of more esoteric options.

QBO’s masterstroke in navigation is the little + sign at the centre top of the screen – click on that to see the Quick Create menu and from there you are off and running confidently and easily to any part of the software. There are also icons for Search and View of Recent Transactions. Xero does require a lot more perseverance to achieve the same goal.

One of the tasks for the survey participants was to set up a new customer, record a customer invoice and the cash receipt against it. Navigating to Customers in QBO, I was presented with a clear big blue button that said New Customer – an instant giveaway on how to set up a new customer. The Customer Centre clearly listed all existing customers, the amounts owing with nice red icons to show was late in paying some invoices. In Xero you had to think a little more to get to the right place.

However, once I was in the customer invoice entry screen, I couldn’t see a whole lot of difference between the two apart from the ability to save the payment terms against the customer in QBO which meant I didn’t need to re-enter that information on each invoice. I did find the Xero screen somewhat easier on the eye in that it used smaller fonts and appeared more succinct whereas QBO used all the real estate on the screen. I could email and print the invoice directly from both products. If I wanted to record the payment at the same time as recording the invoice – that was probably easier in Xero.

These findings played out across the rest of the scenarios, navigation was clearer and more intuitive in QBO but once into the nitty gritty of the task I couldn’t see any significant variances on any of the points measured.

So overall I would agree with the research that QBO is easier to use for the first time user and its excellent navigation features lend themselves to inspiring confidence. Xero seems to require a little more perseverance to find functions but once I have accessed a function such as entering a customer invoice there wasn’t  a lot of difference.

Whether or not Intuit can extrapolate the can claim of ‘Peoples Choice’ when looking at the total solution is open to question given the survey tested a fairly limited range of tasks. However Intuit is certainly listening to small business owners and taking comments on board which can only result in a better experience for users.


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