Know If You Have Outgrown Spreadsheets?

Know If You Have Outgrown Spreadsheets?
Know If You Have Outgrown Spreadsheets?

Prasenjit Dey

Brands & Communications
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Traditionally, eCommerce businesses have relied on classic Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to manage their product information, a practice deeply rooted in the history of online retail. Spreadsheets, including Google Sheets, served as upgrades from traditional ledger books for accounting, offering capabilities for organizing product data. 
Spreadsheet's ability to handle large volumes of data, generate reports, automate tasks, and create visualizations has made it a valuable tool for managing mass data.

However, as eCommerce evolves and competition intensifies, Excel's limitations as a product information database become apparent. 

Today's markets demand the agility, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness that spreadsheets struggle to provide. Whether you've long depended on spreadsheets or are new to eCommerce, choosing between spreadsheets and alternative solutions is unavoidable. To make an informed decision, it's crucial to understand that while Excel offers affordability and ease, relying solely on it may lead to greater costs and inefficiencies in the long term. This is a risk that eCommerce businesses should be cautious about.

Some Indicators That You Have Outgrown Spreadsheets

Here are some signs that your organization has outgrown spreadsheets:

1) Susceptible to human error

Excel is undeniably powerful, but it's not immune to errors. You've probably heard that around 88% of spreadsheets have errors and incorrect data. While this might sound alarming, it's understandable when you consider the repetitive nature of copying and pasting product information into countless Excel cells. With many SKUs, errors are almost inevitable, especially as fatigue sets in. Bulk changes in Excel can also pose challenges, often giving a false sense of security. It's easy to overlook the need to verify whether bulk edits have been executed accurately. We often expect more from this basic spreadsheet software than it can deliver. Thus, you should stop using Excel to avoid errors, as it doesn’t work optimally for product information. 

2) Because you are selling on multiple channels 

Excel spreadsheets consolidate product information for distribution across various channels, including sales reps, retail partners, eCommerce platforms, and marketplaces. While this broad dissemination expands revenue streams and facilitates scalability, it also presents challenges. The issue arises when it's time to send out the Excel spreadsheet of product information. How do you send one document to multiple endpoints with distinct requirements? Whether it's pricing or formatting standards, the solution to this multi-management challenge is straightforward: duplicate the Excel spreadsheet, customize each for a specific channel, and, in doing so, duplicate the effort.

What is Effort Duplication?

Repeating the same task multiple times unnecessarily is inefficient and drains valuable time and energy from marketing and product management teams. Duplicating, editing, renaming, and sending files becomes daunting, hindering growth, productivity, and organizational clarity. Updating product information in Excel spreadsheets only adds to the challenge.

3) You Face Data Accuracy Challenges

Data corruption presents substantial hurdles for businesses, resulting in valuable time being squandered on re-collecting and reconfiguring misplaced product data. This issue drains resources and diminishes productivity, delaying project timelines. In contrast to spreadsheets, employing a specialized product information database with cloud storage eradicates the threat of data corruption. Solutions like Product Information Management provide secure cloud-based data storage with robust backup mechanisms and comprehensive version history, effectively safeguarding against data loss.

4) Because you have a big team that accesses the data

Another factor contributing to potential product information errors is inadequate data security. Imagine a situation where various teams engage in diverse product aspects—marketing, sales, and logistics. Each team may necessitate distinct data sets, and managing these needs via spreadsheets frequently leads to a convoluted array of files, complicating collaboration.


Furthermore, as data evolves and undergoes alterations, ensuring everyone works with the most recent version becomes a logistical nightmare. This heightens the risk of errors and miscommunication, potentially influencing crucial business decisions. 


Want to know more about PIM? Here is Your Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right PIM

5) You Face History and Versioning Challenges

Tracking every change made is essential when managing a document or database containing numerous critical items. Tracking edits in eCommerce product information management contributes to effective data governance. Ideally, you want visibility into who made which edits and precisely when. Access to all product information versions is invaluable when troubleshooting issues, akin to retracing your steps when something is lost. While Excel offers options to redo or undo changes, it fails to identify who made the edits and when. Moreover, it only tracks the history of a specific session and user, which poses limitations. Version control is crucial to any product database, highlighting a significant reason to transition away from Excel. With Product Information Management (PIM), version control becomes simpler as data is centralized. Additionally, version control features extend to information and digital assets, allowing users to monitor real-time edits and updates, tracing back to the content's inception.

6) Vulnerable to Corruption

Because Spreadsheets operate as files where users store and share their data, they are prone to data corruption. Spreadsheets are essentially static files rather than dynamic, cloud-based systems, so they are highly vulnerable to corruption. What does data corruption involve? It typically occurs during file transfers, presenting a significant risk whenever you email, send via message, or convert an Excel spreadsheet into another document format.

7) Spreadsheets are Not Built for Copywriting

Many overlook the impact of copywriting when considering reasons to move away from Excel.
The common practice of including content creation fields within the same Excel sheet as product information might seem efficient at first glance. However, this setup often leads to a cluttered spreadsheet, with rows of product attributes followed by a column for copywriting. While the idea is to streamline the copywriter's workflow by consolidating all necessary information in one document, Excel's user interface is not intuitive.

Excel's limitations become apparent when attempting to use it as a comprehensive content and copy storage database. Its functionality is not tailored to manage and enrich product data effectively. In contrast, a robust Product Information Management (PIM) system is designed to enhance product information, making copywriting its primary focus. By providing dedicated fields for copy, descriptions, and bullet points, a PIM simplifies the process of creating compelling product content for various channels' product pages.

Moreover, a PIM eliminates the need for tedious scrolling through spreadsheets by offering rich product metadata and intuitive search functionalities. Users can easily locate specific product types requiring copywriting without the hassle of navigating complex Excel sheets.

8) The spreadsheet lacks Digital Asset Management

Product information management experts consistently emphasize the significance of connecting product data with digital assets. But why?

In Excel, managing digital assets is impossible. An Excel sheet falls short of a product information database because digital assets are vital in product information. Rich media such as photos, videos, PDFs, and other assets offer crucial product details, often providing more informative content than abstract numbers and attributes alone. Customers depend on digital assets for a comprehensive view and understanding of a product. BetterCommerce PIM comes with in-built DAM features, through which you can add images and video links to showcase your product from different angles and views. 

9) Because It Lacks Customer Self-Service

In today's market, relying solely on basic print or digital catalogs is insufficient, especially for B2B businesses. When building relationships with retailers and customers, providing a unique experience is crucial. However, the conventional method of using Excel spreadsheets for product data, which has persisted for decades, fails to deliver innovation.

A key reason to transition away from Excel for eCommerce product data management is its inability to showcase a brand's full potential. As mentioned earlier, digital asset management is pivotal in effective product data solutions. Why is this important? Like any consumer, clients seek a comprehensive understanding of a brand, including a diverse range of product content and images.

This disparity between Excel and Product Information Management (PIM) systems is significant. Excel represents the status quo, offering a collection of product attributes and descriptors that, while functional, cannot captivate customers on their own.

In contrast, a robust database designed for customer self-service, such as a PIM, enhances the customer experience. Functioning as a digital showroom, a PIM elevates the traditional catalog by presenting products and attributes in a fresh, engaging manner that reflects the brand's promise. What better way to demonstrate the value of your products than by impressing potential customers with a rich, intuitive interface that pairs images with products?

End Note 

Product Information Management software offers significant advantages over Excel in managing product data. Unlike Excel, which is prone to errors caused by accidents, technical mishaps, or lack of security, a dedicated product database ensures accuracy and safeguards data integrity. Additionally, it assists businesses in evaluating content quality and provides a centralized platform for product information and content management.

With features such as automatic updates from integrations and seamless collaboration among users, selecting the right PIM system is a more resilient choice for e-commerce businesses in the long run. Most importantly, transitioning from Excel to a PIM platform lays the groundwork for easier scalability.

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