When Excel reaches its limits

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Everyone knows it and almost everyone uses it: The Excel sheet. Since its introduction in 1985, Microsoft Excel has become an indispensable part of everyday office life. The spreadsheets are considered to be easy-to-use data stores and are used in a wide variety of business areas – whenever information needs to be recorded and evaluated. But how reliable is the Microsoft tool when it comes to online retailing, omnichannel sales and the management and maintenance of product data?

Taking a look into the business world shows: e-commerce companies that only market a small, constant product range and manage a limited amount of product data can still function reasonably well with Excel sheets. But once the number of products and channels or the frequency of product changes increases, it becomes essential for many to turn to more efficient software solutions. Learn more about the reasons and alternatives here.

Why Excel is not always the answer

Generally, the tasks to be completed with an Excel sheets are supposedly small – and ultimately mutate into real « time wasters ». Before you know it, employees are spending several hours a week exclusively editing and forwarding Excel sheets. This is partly a result of the fact that Excel is not self-explanatory and the correct handling of the tables has to be learned and trained. On the other hand, the more people, data sources and work steps involved, the greater the risk of errors, making it necessary to carry out inspections, which again take up a lot of time.

Especially in e-commerce, the impact of incorrect or inconsistent data can be critical to the customer and their product and brand experience. Anyone who wants to be successful in online commerce and expand in the long term should therefore gradually leave Excel behind as the primary tool for managing and maintaining product data and look for a software solution that enables product-related data to be captured error-free and centrally for the entire organization – and used with the highest quality, for instance on the website or online store.

Excel Limits and PIM benefits

PIM – for central management and administration of your product data

Product Information Management includes the management of product information and its distribution to various output channels. Since product data makes all the difference, especially in online retail, more and more companies are turning to PIM systems to help them maintain their platforms and channels.

PIM diagram

Companies that want to be successful in online retailing and stand out from the competition face the challenge of having to provide consistent product experiences across many different channels. Product data must be collected and processed for this purpose, which often involves the use of a great deal of resources – and without systemic support can lead to chaos. The risk of data chaos is particularly high when product data is distributed across different departments and stored in Excel sheets.

With a PIM system you can manage your product data centrally and organize and categorize it tailored to your requirements and specific channels. Centralizing product data maintenance in this way not only saves time, but also positively affects the quality of the data, as well as collaboration between departments and workflows within the company as a whole.

Ensuring high data quality across all channels

Since today’s consumers conduct extensive research before making a purchase decision, and the competition in online retailing is often only a few clicks away, the quality of product data is crucial to success – and this applies to all channels. Poor product descriptions and images make companies look unprofessional and cause prospective customers to turn away. On the contrary, high-quality product descriptions can enable outstanding customer experiences.

As mentioned previously, working with Excel sheets is not only time-consuming, but also extremely error-prone. As errors often go unnoticed and there are no inherent control mechanisms in the system, spreadsheets alone are no longer suitable as the foundation for maintaining and distributing product data nowadays. With a PIM system you can be sure that only correct data records are published and shared (and yes, for instance also via an exported Excel file) – because before exporting to the various channels, modern PIM systems usually check the data through a workflow engine.

Efficient and seamless collaboration

Organized collaboration is a challenge when using Excel sheets because each file is designed to be edited by only one instance at a time. While there are cloud solutions such as Sharepoint or Google Sheets that make collaboration possible, these can violate security policies. And again, without additional data governance policies and controls, there is no guarantee that data will not be captured incorrectly or overwritten accidentally and unnoticed.

The situation is different with PIM systems. The software is designed for collaborative work and enables a seamless flow of information across all departments and employees. With a PIM software, you can define and assign roles and permissions for multiple users, so your entire team can work on your product descriptions without getting in each other’s way.

So when is it time for a PIM system?

Working with spreadsheets is more or less established. Since Excel processes are routines that have been used for years, the need for action with regard to centralization and automation of product data management is rarely recognized by the employees involved. It is therefore advisable to regularly reflect on all business processes involving spreadsheets. The following questions can help you reflect:

  • In which areas do you use spreadsheets?
  • How many data sources flow into your spreadsheets?
  • How many employees have access to these spreadsheets?
  • How much time does the maintenance of the spreadsheet take?
  • How satisfied are you with the results?

Is this the end of Excel?

However, all this does not mean that companies can say goodbye to spreadsheets. Excel will continue to be the preferred tool in bilateral data exchange between suppliers and retailers. Therefore, it is important to rely on a PIM system that is capable to coexist with Excel in organizations and has appropriate import/export capabilities to take the benefits and evolved processes of and with Microsoft Excel to a whole new level.

Are you reaching your limits with Excel? Then sign up for a free mediacockpit demo today!

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