Inventory Management Excel Templates Suck: So What are the Alternatives?

Allen Malapit
September 25, 2015

The internet is filled with inventory management Excel templates intended to help companies keep track of products as they come and go from their stockrooms. Yet very few mature companies choose Excel to track inventory. Why not? Simply put, because with so many better options available, why would they? This solution can work okay when companies first start out, but as companies grow and their inventory becomes larger, tracking in Excel becomes extremely cumbersome and tedious, not to mention inaccurate. If your inventory has expanded beyond a few items, then it’s time to upgrade your inventory tracking system to something better.

Why Excel Isn't the Best Solution for Inventory

Excel is a great program­­––one that is intended to store and manipulate data. But that doesn’t mean that Excel is the best way to manage your inventory, which is constantly changing. Today, dozens of better options exist to manage this vital part of your business. From barcode scanners and on-premise inventory software to mobile devices integrated with cloud based inventory management systems, your business has more choices than ever to streamline your inventory management process. Even companies with a very small budget can take advantage of many of these solutions. Cloud-based inventory management has brought the inventory management computing power once available only to large enterprises within reach of small and medium businesses. There are even free programs that can do a better job of managing inventory than an Excel spreadsheet. You don’t need specialized equipment either. A laptop or desktop computer for analysis and reporting, a printer for barcode labels and a mobile device – a tablet or your smartphone – will get the job done. Many inventory applications exist that can be integrated with mobile devices, including your phone, to provide the technology needed to scan items in and out of inventory quickly and efficiently.

6 Reasons Why Inventory Management Excel Templates Suck

We don’t use the “S” word lightly. Here are a few reasons why we strongly recommend that as businesses grow, they move away from using Excel to manage their inventory.

1. It’s redundant and time consuming:

Using Excel to track your inventory is incredibly time consuming and full of redundant steps. The best way to explain why this is not a good idea is to walk you through the actual process to count inventory using an Excel spreadsheet. 1)    Pull up spreadsheet in Excel. 2)    Print worksheet. 3)    Walk to bin. 4)    Count all items. 5)    Write down number in spreadsheet. 6)    Return to computer. 7)    Hand enter numbers into Excel. 8)    If you have inventory software, manually import data. 9)    Repeat for each item, every time an item comes or goes. The process of tracking inventory using a modern inventory tracking system with an integrated barcode scanner on your wireless device or phone? 1)    Walk to bin. 2)    Remove phone from pocket. 3)    Scan items. You’re done. Information can be automatically updated wirelessly to the inventory management system, and you get to move on with your day.

2. Counts are inaccurate:

Mistakes are easy to make and hard to find and fix. If you have more than one person working in your warehouse, you will very quickly realize that Excel is holding you back. You may have several versions of your spreadsheet in use––how will you know which one is correct? What if you update inventory using the wrong data or lose a spreadsheet? If this happens, your whole system can no longer be relied upon for accurate data.

3. Information is not updated in real time:

Today’s customers are used to having all the information they want at their fingertips. They expect real time data. They want to know what is in stock now, not what was in stock this morning or last week. This is a big issue for companies that want to stay competitive. If you can’t provide the information your customers want, they may choose to take their business to a company that can.

4. Only one person can access data at a time:

That’s okay, you’re thinking, we can get around the inaccuracy issue with better processes. We’ll just have our employees enter the spreadsheets themselves. We can use the version control functions in Excel. Not so fast. That might work, except that only one person can change an item at a time. So people can spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting sometimes leads to forgetting, throwing your counts out of whack again. And they can overwrite each other’s changes with inaccurate information.

5. Changes are hard to track:

When items go in and out of stock, Excel spreadsheets make it hard to tell when the last item was brought in or taken out. Who made those changes? It’s also hard to compare the changes that are made with the orders that are coming and going. You could do it manually with paper, but that would be even more time consuming.

6. It’s slowing down your ability to grow and scale:

Using Excel also prevents you from being able to implement online ordering and other processes that would allow you to do business more quickly and efficiently. Why invest time into a system that can’t keep up with you and actually prevents you from adopting processes that would enable you to grow faster? We talk a lot on the Breaking Up with Paper blog about getting away from paper processes. While Excel is a software application, it’s almost just as manual as a bunch of paper spreadsheets. If you want to run an agile business today, it’s these kinds of manual processes that need to be the first to go. Questions? We want to hear from you in the comments!