Spreadsheets are great. They are familiar and a godsend to those looking for low-cost means of handling all kinds of data, especially concerning products. While not equipped to support product information management at a scale needed for vast SKUs or multi-platform integration, they can prove to be a great start for those beginning to venture into eCommerce.
And for good reason. The boom of eCommerce means that many entrepreneurs now have a whole array of opportunities to unlock online. These opportunities come with a fair share of challenges behind the scenes— not the least of which are those concerning inventory and product data. Yet this information is key to ensure sales, project a good brand image and help track inventory and shipping. Safe to say, it’s important.
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What is product data?
Product data encompasses all there is to know about your product. Especially, in the case of eCommerce products, they inform the buyer about the details and characteristics of the product. This includes details like model, make, size, color, and categorizations, as the case may be.
Product data is how your customer can match the product to their needs and identify if it is worth the purchase. Therefore, ensuring your product data is arranged well, updated regularly, and is accessible when required is indispensable.
Related reads: How To Write Killer eCommerce Product Descriptions
Top Spreadsheet Software
This tool has been most people’s first experience with spreadsheets. While not the first spreadsheet software ever, it can be credited with familiarizing many to using them. So much so that ‘Excel’ is sometimes used interchangeably for spreadsheets (making the pun in the title possible). It is a powerful tool, available with the Microsoft Office Suite of apps and with a lot of features to manage and visualize data.
You can also access a version of Excel on the web but without some of the features that its native version is known for. This includes several workbook functions, support for certain file formats (like .csv), and a requirement to be connected to the internet.
Cost: Starts at $1.99 per user, per month | Free on OneDrive | Starts at $5, per user per month for OneDrive For Business or Microsoft 365 For Business
Supported on: Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS
Part of the Google Suite of apps, Google Sheets offers a collaboration-driven approach to spreadsheets. Accessible online and on the go, while also being free of cost, it offers brand new entrants in the sphere of eCommerce an affordable means of tracking product data. That said, Google Sheets does not have the ability to handle content-dense worksheets as efficiently as its Microsoft counterpart.
Supported on: Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS
An open-source application, Zoho Sheet is similar to MS Excel in many of its features and focuses on its interactive and collaborative spreadsheets. They can be accessed on the cloud through computers and mobile devices making the tool convenient to use across devices. On the downside, the application does lack some function keys and has been known to lag a bit while loading or updating spreadsheets.
Supported on: Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS
Ethercalc is a web-based spreadsheet site that can be accessed and worked on by multiple people simultaneously. It doesn’t require you to log in and has no editing locks. It’s free to use, open-source and collaborative in nature. It offers many basic features that app-based spreadsheets provide and doesn’t need the creation of an account for use. Its interface is less modern-looking than others on this list and requires users to save/bookmark the URL associated with the workbook to be able to access it later.
Supported on: Windows, Mac
Part of the LibreOffice open-source suite of applications, LibreOffice Calc is great for an alternate experience to MS Excel. Packed with many of its features (including some mentioned ahead) and with a familiar user interface, it’s a great alternative for native use. While it does support multiple users for files, collaboration isn’t as effective as with its more advanced counterparts.
Supported on: Windows, Mac, and Linux
Downsides To Factor In
As stated previously, spreadsheets can offer many advantages. But, as with most things in life, they come with a flipside. Here are a few key factors to consider while planning for and using spreadsheets to manage product content:
Integration with other tools and programs
Most spreadsheets are best used in isolation and do not automatically integrate well with other tools such as content aggregators or your ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. Your team would need to study inputs from each of these systems separately. This also means having to manually piece together the information each provides, as opposed to getting a holistic view of your business.
By virtue of requiring regular manual updates, the use of spreadsheets becomes progressively more time-consuming, especially as your business and its SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) grow. Spreadsheets don’t offer smooth bulk editing features and have restricted options for rules that can be applied too.
Errors and redundancies
Because they’ll be manually updated, there is a significant chance of errors creeping up in your product data. This may take the shape of incorrect entries, typos, repeated entries, or even missing fields of information. Not only do these errors impact the usability of that dataset, but can also affect the perception of the brand in the eyes of any customer who may notice.
Your product content will only truly be complete with supporting media such as images and videos which aren’t easily managed using a spreadsheet. While there are quick fixes for this for short-term use, businesses looking to scale and efficiently manage such content across SKUs will eventually need to look at other options, such as a PIM.
Spreadsheets have a limit on recording and being able to revert changes that have been made to the workbook, especially when there’s a need to trace them to individual changes that have previously been made. This gets more frustrating due to the aforementioned propensity for errors, leading to the cumbersome task of tracing and rectifying them manually.
Without further ado, here are hacks to help make dealing with these vast sheets a little smoother:
eCommerce Product Spreadsheets: The Tips You Need
Organize data uniformly
During the course of uploading and updating data concerning products, ensure that each product’s information is being updated in the same format. This will ensure that you are able to track products across types and categories efficiently and errors are minimized. It will also help to arrange the information in a way that caters well to your preferred eCommerce Platform(s), Content Management Systems(CMS), and other channels where you have your products listed.
Consciously avoid errors
To err is human, but it pays to actively put in efforts to minimize the errors made while uploading or editing information on the sheets. If possible, have fresh eyes go through the content just to catch any errors you may have missed. Be careful while using auto-correct, especially for products with unique names, product IDs, and details that may seem like errors (you do not want it “correcting” something you have, in fact, gotten down right). For those that are predictable, you can include the use of the IFERROR option, which will allow for a customized message to be shown in case of a specified error: far more useful than having mistakes one may not otherwise notice.
Get on the cloud
There are multiple reasons to move your product information onto the cloud. It provides easy access to the data for multiple team members from any location. They prevent the need to maintain multiple copies of data: every edit is reflected across teams accessing that sheet. Provided your internet connection holds, you won’t have to worry about saving or losing data either (though it may take a little longer to let go of the Ctrl/Command + Save reflex). Going on the cloud would also mean taking additional steps for data security, including keeping strong passwords and preventing access to the sheets to people outside the organization.
Obvious names are obviously better
Whether you are naming tabs, sheets or folders, ensure that the name is easy to understand and not hard to miss. This will ensure that whoever is accessing that data is aware of the exact information they are seeking. Avoid using short forms or codes that have the potential to cause any confusion while accessing data. Choose names that would immediately convey its details to someone in a hurry and with no time to cross-verify its content.
Hyperlinks are your friend
To avoid inundating your sheets with too much data, choose to hyperlink with other worksheets to get further information. This could be categorized based on the frequency of use or team(s) involved, for example, and will prevent visual overload and errors caused by it. Be cautious with this option, since overusing hyperlinks may slow down your files.
Get a bird’s eye view
There will be times where you would need to consult and/or update multiple sheets at the same time. Opening and switching between tabs may seem like what you’re stuck with doing, but that may increase the risk for errors or misinterpretations. Instead, try this if you’re using Excel: in your current sheet, open the View tab. Head to New Window and select the tab(s) you’d be referring to. Lastly, select the format that best suits your requirements and proceed with this time-saving version of your worksheet.
On Google Sheets, you can achieve this the manual way by opening a new tab and accessing the same sheet from there. You can also Freeze Frames for easier scrolling across or below the sheet.
Your conditions apply
It pays to get the data set up as you would need them. Sometimes this data may be hidden in plain sight: surrounded by data that you don’t particularly need at that moment: which is where conditional formatting gets to step in. With this feature, you can assign certain rules or conditions that you’re looking for in your data. Entries that meet these conditions will be highlighted: as individual cells, or even entire rows or columns depending on the conditions placed. Also, you may have multiple conditions set up with different formatting and/or color options.
If required, the data can also be visualized in the form of bars. Along similar lines, functions such as SUMIFS and COUNTIFS can be used to sum values and count values respectively, on the condition they meet certain criteria that you set.
Optimize the worksheet performance
As with most tools, spreadsheets do have their limits as well. While your sheets can be optimized to deliver information best to your team, there are measures that the team can take to help ensure that the sheets don’t slow down. The larger the worksheet size, the more optimizing your worksheet will come in handy. Here is a handy guide from Microsoft listing features you can use to improve worksheet performance on its product.
Know what you’re looking for, and then find it
When searching for a specific entry it pays to know exactly what you’re looking for. Preferably a phrase unique to the entry. However, in the very likely event that you may not know of such a singularly distinguishing phrase to Command/Ctrl + F, then VLOOKUP and INDEX-MATCH are your friends.
Sometimes, you need to look at things from a different angle
And sometimes, that angle may mean swifter reading and faster comprehension, as is the case with the PIVOT function. This function essentially turns the table on its axis, helping you cut through a lot of data to find what’s most relevant to you. You can select the range of cells, key rows, and the filter you need the outcome to come from, and create a brand-new table with all the details you need. Depending on the spreadsheet tool and version you are using, there are different ways of creating a Pivot table. Here are the methods for Google Sheets.
Plan ahead for tomorrow
As your business grows and reaches new heights, spreadsheets will start doing more harm than good. The more products and sales channels are involved, the more likely that manual product data handling won’t be able to keep up. Evaluate the progress of your business and the data it is working with and in time, take steps to streamline how you handle product data. ERPs are one means of doing so, but as you might be aware ERPs cannot handle enriched product information needed for your digital sales channels. For best results, look into investing in a Product Information Management (PIM) tool.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of six top PIM products currently available in the market.
Spreadsheets aren’t limitless. However, they can serve as an effective tide-over until organizations have reached a place where they can invest in more advanced means of handling their product information.