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Since its release in 1985, Microsoft Excel has been the go-to solution for businesses to manage and organize their product data. But just because something has been done a certain way for this long, doesn’t mean it must continue. Some traditions can be detrimental.
Product data is complex and long with multiple features. It doesn’t just include the product’s attributes, but many other digital assets such as images and videos. Storing these in a spreadsheet can lead to erroneous formats. Some digital assets just can not be stored in a spreadsheet. But this isn’t all. Spreadsheets are a no-go for you when it comes to managing your e-commerce stores and product information for various other reasons.
I’m here to highlight the various issues that arise with the use of Excel spreadsheets, and why it’s time you move to more efficient solutions; namely: PIM.
1. Spreadsheets are prone to human error
Data is one of a business’s strongest assets that is relied on to make quality decisions and create guidance. But what, then, if the data is not complete or accurate? You guessed it: lousy decisions that will lead the business in the wrong direction.
It is reported that 88% of spreadsheets have errors in them. With each person within an organization making changes to a file, the chances of it getting contaminated increase. Small, minor errors along this process result in a spreadsheet that is loaded with inaccurate and inconsistent data. These errors find their way into spreadsheets because Excel has no way of notifying users when they enter a product attribute that may be inaccurate, or if they mistakenly skip a cell, as is possible in Product Information Management solutions. Also, because it’s so hard to keep track of data, employees can become lazy and enter product attributes without double-checking with previous entries to ensure it’s not repeated.
If you’ve been in the e-commerce industry long enough, you will understand the impact inconsistent data can have on customer satisfaction. It simply drives them away from your brand. So what’s the point of spending hours upon hours of hard work on maintaining spreadsheets when they produce undesirable results and drive away sales?
Therefore, as your business grows, it’s essential to move away from spreadsheets towards data management systems that allow you to keep track of all product-related information that is free of errors. Such systems immediately notify the users of any missing product attributes and duplicate entries and ensure consistency between all channels.
2. Don’t allow for collaboration between team members
A major reason why spreadsheets are so susceptible to error is that they don’t allow for collaboration between team members. Since spreadsheets can’t be synced in a way that changes made to them by more than one employee at the same time are all incorporated into the file simultaneously, they become siloed.
Each Excel file is designed to be updated by one instance of Excel at a time. They don’t have the same architecture as enterprise databases or product information management systems that are designed to support multiple users.
Despite the existence of cloud computing solutions, it is still difficult to share spreadsheets among team members and other departments within the organisation. Google Sheets is one of the possible cloud solutions that allow sharing in real-time, but it can breach a company’s security policy, and cause data to be stolen or lost.
This is different from how Product Information Management solutions such as Apimio operate. Such solutions can be updated by multiple employees in real-time, without worrying about changes not being saved from different sources. PIM software allows for collaborative working, leading to seamless flows of information across all departments and channels. It also saves a lot of time. This is unlike in spreadsheets where you have to wait for one employee to finish making his changes to the sheet to pass on to the next employee. And this inefficient cycle goes on endlessly.
3. No accountability as changes can’t be tracked
Now, anyone who has access to a spreadsheet can make changes to it. If you’re giving spreadsheet access to 5 different employees, there is no way of tracking who made what changes to those files. If there is ever an instance where important information is lost or changed, you’ll spend a considerable amount of time trying to figure out who was responsible for that. Then you’ll spend additional time recovering that information somehow.
This is unlike in automated solutions such as PIMs that log all changes made to the system. It can be configured to track changes on items, products, and other entities. With this information, it is possible to reconstruct all the actions that happened to the configured entities. This is extremely important as it helps in simplifying the process of a system/data to restore in the event of loss or some malicious activities occurring in the PIM system.
4. Lack of security
Typically, spreadsheets are not that secure and therefore are at greater risk for data corruption or mismanagement of information. Files that contain sensitive financial information may not be safe from hackers. You can password protect a spreadsheet file, however, it may still not be sufficient for businesses to use. Once someone has access to the spreadsheet data, it is impossible to restrict what they do with it.
Other types of data collection software therefore may be a more viable option. For instance, Apimio has built-in safeguards that protect data integrity. Only the manufacturer has the autonomy to make changes to product data. Employees can be allocated different tasks on the portal, restricting access. In a spreadsheet, this is impossible as you can’t restrict certain cells from being accessed.
Similarly, a user might sort a column of information and may unknowingly cause related information such as first and last name, to become out of sync. In contrast, a database will keep all parts of a record unified, thereby ensuring better data integrity.
PIM systems are optimised for omni-channel selling. Therefore, in the process of distributing data across multiple sales channels, data integrity is kept intact, with no information lost or corrupted.
5. Don’t support real-time decision making
Spreadsheets are incapable of supporting decision making in real-time due to the data being outdated and inaccurate. It is time-consuming to gather the most up-to-date information from multiple users and summarise the information.
Spreadsheets provide raw data all at once. Thus, it’s challenging to interpret what data is essential and what is not. Perhaps the only option in a spreadsheet is pressing the “sort” button which doesn’t always help find what you’re looking for. With other existing systems, prioritising data through visualisation tools can be possible. These tools can highlight the critical aspects of a data set or results, unlike spreadsheets.
Spreadsheets are not designed to keep historical data. Often during the action of reducing their size to keep them more manageable, historical data may be deleted. Even if different versions are retained, it is very hard for decision-makers to compare files and spot trends within their data.
Product Information Management systems are built to accommodate data analysis. With all information stored in one place, organizations can read consumer trends and make quality business decisions. The right dashboard software will provide you with the chart framework to build from while giving you plenty of opportunities to customize.
Spreadsheets are also typically without context. It’s difficult to correlate different data sets together in Excel to see how they interrelate. Dashboards, on the other hand, can have different layers of information and blend multiple sources seamlessly. You start off with a high-level view of your metrics and add in drill-downs to show the data driving those numbers with a single click.
6. Unsuitable for Digital Asset Management (DAM)
Have you ever tried storing an image in a spreadsheet? It has you clenching your fists out of frustration because it’s near impossible. PDFs, videos, images, and other digital content is essential for e-commerce businesses as they bring your products to life. Basic product attributes won’t engage buyers.
Digital assets are often scattered around, in different departments with different employees. Having a central location that stores all this data with the rest of your product information ensures that it is easily accessible and available to any member of the organization so they can push it to all sales channels whenever.
PIM has unlimited DAM capabilities to keep all files and multimedia content safe and up-to-date. You can manage images, videos, graphics, and files in one place, linked directly to your products. Having both your product information and digital assets in a central repository allows marketing teams to easily push out content in relation to their products as necessary. It also enables the creation of better content as no files are lost, and teams don’t have to spend extra time trying to locate these.
With Product Information Management tools like Apimio, publishing your digital assets to the right channel, at the right time, and in the right format, is automatic. You don’t have to stress about getting them optimized for the user-front as the system does it for you.
7. No auto data-backup
Excel does not have any auto data backup feature. So once you’ve tirelessly worked on putting product data into your excel sheets, you better be prepared to manually prepare a backup for it as well. And if there ever comes an instance that you forgot to make a backup, that’s data gone out the window, nowhere to be found. Loss of data is a huge risk for any business, as it results in incomplete product data on the public-front, and inaccurate data analysis in the future since huge chunks of data are not reflected in the sheets.
However, every PIM has an auto-data-backup feature that makes database backups frequently, automatically, and stores them in different virtual locations. Users need not worry about the loss of data as everything will be safe and secure, and can be accessed at any given time, at whatever location they deem convenient. Think about the time and effort your team will save when data is backed up automatically. No manual work necessary. We love to hear it!
With robust PIM systems in place, companies should stop relying on outdated Excel spreadsheets that create inaccurate and inconsistent product data. Tools like Apimio are now in the market to help e-commerce companies streamline their operations, access the highest quality product data with guaranteed data security and integrity.