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Why Spreadsheets Destroy Importing Companies
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Why Spreadsheets Destroy Importing Companies

No one will debate that Microsoft Excel has been one of the easiest to use and most effective tools for small importing businesses to keep information in the last 20 years.

However, because this tool is so easy to use, many importing companies lean too heavily on spreadsheets as their primary system for keeping track of shipments, inventory, financial data, even orders.  Many times things that made perfect sense to do on spreadsheets for a one man operation shipping a few containers a year are the same things that can begin to eat away at the efficiency of a growing importing and distribution business.

Although many of us use the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, it would be foolish to stand by and watch the wrong tools continue to break a business.

1.  Inefficient – How many times are you going to enter the same information into different spreadsheets?

One of the most common complaints from importers who over use spreadsheets is the lack of efficiency.  Often times people are taking one spreadsheet, word document or email to get quotes from a supplier, then they enter the information into a new spreadsheet to quote the customer, then if things go well they may use a couple of new spreadsheets to track Sales Orders and Purchase Orders, then things really get fun.

In communication back and forth with suppliers many importers, will exchange new spreadsheets to determine production scheduling and the best use of container space.  Then, when goods do ship, many companies will use a new spreadsheet to track shipping information.

In the case of importers who do warehousing as well, many companies will use a new spreadsheet to keep warehouse inventory information and sometimes even new spreadsheets to manage customer delivery orders.

Of course, you need to know if you are making money on these shipments, so what better tool to keep track of landed costs than a spreadsheet?

Then, the importer will need to keep accounting information somewhere so typically the company will take the some information they have been tracking in the endless spreadsheets and re-enter it into QuickBooks or some other accounting program.

Is this beginning to sound familiar?

2. Human Error – Inherently, the more times human hands touch the same pieces of data the more likely that data will begin to get corrupted.  Much like a game of telephone, as data gets passed from spreadsheet to spreadsheet the consistency and value get lost along the way.

Unfortunately, the only thing worse than not having information available at your fingertips is having the wrong information available at your finger tips.  These can include things like:

– Telling Customers you can ship them inventory that does not exist
– Not getting Sales because you don’t think inventory is available that actually is
– Problems at the port because the shipping information is outdated or wrong

3.  No Access From the Road – As an importer, it is critical to visit both your customers as well as your suppliers.  This can mean being out of the office for days or even weeks around the country and on the other side of the world.

The problem with using spreadsheets in this environment is that the best you could do is to get data that was valid when you left for your trip, or waking up your employees at 2:00AM to email you the latest inventory spreadsheet because you are in a critical meeting with your supplier in Shanghai.

4.  Employees are Operating on their own Spreadsheet Islands – When everyone is maintaining their own spreadsheets, then employees are only able to make decisions based on the information they have accessible to them at the time.  


The issue with operating on spreadsheet islands is that the purchasing person is making purchasing decisions based on what his inventory spreadsheet tells him, but how much better decision making could he do if he had the sales girls spreadsheet in from of him to get a picture for what customer demand is as well.

The Sales girl would probably love access to the shipping spreadsheet as well so she knows how to answer her customer that just called and asked where his goods are.

There is a better way (845) 383-3800



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