Software & Apps MS Office Building Databases for Retail Shops by Mike Chapple Writer our editorial process Twitter Mike Chapple Updated on October 24, 2019 Hero Images / Getty Images MS Office Word Excel Powerpoint Outlook Tweet Share Email If you are a shop owner or manager, you already know exactly how important it is to have the right database. From inventory and shipping to employees and customers, you know that even a slow day involves a lot of data maintenance. The real question is what kind of database do you need? Hopefully, you haven’t tried to maintain this information in Microsoft Excel. If you have, you may want to consider starting with a basic database, like Microsoft Access, so that you can easily transfer the data to the database. The kind and size of the shop you run make a big difference in what kind of database makes the most sense. If your shop is set up periodically at farmer’s markets, then you have very different needs than a brick and mortar shop. If you sell food, you will need to track expiration dates as part of the inventory. If your retail shop is online, then you will have to track fees, shipping, and review information. However, there are a number of things that all shops have in common, such as inventory and cash flow. To help you determine the best database for your specific needs, here are a few things you should consider. Information to Track in the Database Running a retail shop entails tracking a lot of different aspects. Not only do you have to keep an eye on the inventory, but you also have to make sure you have enough ways to display the goods (such as bins, hangers, stands, and cases), supplies to show the price of the goods, bills, sales information, and client information. There is a lot to track, and databases make managing your shop much easier. Online shops can be difficult to manage because there is so much more you have to track, such as shipping. A database makes it considerably easier to handle all of these different aspects without having to constantly refer to your client or sales history. You can even export information, such as reports, and upload them into your database so that you don’t have to contend with the problems of manual entry. Deciding Whether to Buy or Build Whether you should buy or build a database is the big question, and it depends entirely on the size of your business and where you want to take it. If you are just getting started and you have time on your hands (but a very limited amount of cash), building your own database is a great way to make it specific to your unique needs. This is particularly true if you are just starting an online shop. If you start the database just before opening your online retail shop, you will have a much better grasp of your inventory and your beginning point. This is fantastic data to have readily accessible come tax season and it helps you stay on top of your inventory, as well as client data. If you have a larger business, especially something like a franchise, buying a database is going to work better for you. It will help you through all of the things you might otherwise forget. Odds are, you won’t have time to create and manage the database, so it is best to have all of the bases covered. You can always make your own modifications as you go. Finding the Right Database Program If you decide to buy a database program, you are going to need to spend a large amount of time researching the different options. There is a wide range of types of retail shops, and the database market tailors to the unique needs of those different types. If you are working with produce and foodstuff, you clearly need something that helps you track perishable items. If you have a jewelry store, you will need to be able to track insurance on the valuable pieces. For shops that have an online presence and a brick and mortar facility, you definitely need something that covers a lot of different angles for your inventory, fees, taxes, and administrative aspects of the business. If you sell out of a particular item, you will need to know early on so that you can immediately mark it sold out for the online portion of the shop. Before you begin, think about everything you will need to track, then make sure that the databases you consider have those items as a minimum. There are a lot of databases on the market, so you should be able to get everything you need for a very reasonable rate. Creating Your Own Database If you plan to create your own database, you will need to determine what program you want to use. Microsoft Access tends to be the go-to program because it is powerful and relatively inexpensive. You can import and export data from your other Microsoft software (which is incredibly helpful if you have been tracking information in Excel). You can also load your emails, sales letters, and other documentation (both from Word and Outlook) into the database and make them templates. Access has the added advantage of having a considerable number of free templates and files so that you don’t have to start entirely from scratch. You can pick up a free template, then make the necessary modifications so that your database includes everything you need. The Importance of Maintenance No matter how you acquire your database, you will have to maintain it for the database to continue to be useful to you. If you don’t keep up with things like inventory, addresses, changes in billing, or sales totals, the database ends up just being another fixture with no purpose. Think of your data in the same way you think of your bookkeeping. If you don’t keep up with all of the transactions and changes, it is going to get you into trouble. You don’t have to have an IT person to manage it in the beginning, although it can be extremely helpful. However, the bigger your shop gets, the more time you will need to dedicate to maintaining and managing your data.