Northwind Traders sells international specialty food items to buyers from around the world. Management is currently realizing that issues such as rising shipping costs due to gas prices as well as competition are cutting into the company’s profit margins. In an effort to reduce cost and increase profits, they have hired you to perform an analysis of their sales data. They have provided you with a set of data from their sales database that includes sales data that spans three years. This data set includes the following information for each order:
- product category
- last name and first name of the salesperson
- country from which the order originated
- order date
- product ordered
- quantity of product ordered
- product name
- unit price for the product
- any discount given to the customer off the item price
Northwind Traders has a company looking at their overall costs to see where reductions can be made, but at the same time, they wish to see if there are any trends in their sales that might enable them to increase their sales revenue. Based on only the data that you have been provided, you must analyze the data, draw conclusions, and present them in a recommendation report. Use Excel data, charts, and tables to justify these recommendations.
Organize the Data
Often in the real world, data used for analysis comes from external sources. In the case you will be looking at this week, you will first need to import data extracted from a database into Excel. Recall that in Week 4, we looked at importing data. The first step is to understand the format of the data. Because our data has been provided in a .csv file, we can open the file in Notepad, and review it to determine whether it is in fixed format or delimited format. You can use the Excel Import Wizard (Data tab, Get External Data Group, From text command), you will want to ensure that you select the correct delimiter and then set appropriate data types for each of the items you have imported. It may be beneficial to go back to the Week 4 iLab and review the lab videos and instructions. However, with the 2010 version of Excel, the import is automatic. You can simply open the SalesData.csv file and save it as an Excel file with an .xlsx extension.
Once the data is in Excel, you will provide professional formatting following the formatting guidelines we studied during the first week of class. Are there any formatting features that will make this list more readable? What types of documentation might you provide to make the data set easier to follow? You will want to add a documentation sheet to the workbook to explain the author, purpose, and date and provide information about each of the sheets you will create as you analyze the data. Because we are looking at overall sales data, you will also want to review the data to see if there are any calculations that you need to provide that will give more information about sales in general. For example, how will you calculate the total revenue from each sale made?
Analyze the Data
You have a tool set of ways to analyze the data at this point in the course. Your goal is to experiment with tools to see what trends might become obvious as you begin working with the data. Remember that you can copy the data to new worksheets as you explore its meaning and begin to draw conclusions. The following are some strategies you might use:
- Sort the data. Remember that you can sort using multiple sort levels. Try sorting by date and then by product. What price increases have there been over time? How have these price increases impacted sales? Sort by product and discount level. Have discounts increased the sales of a product? Is there any discount level that appears to be more effective?
- Graph sales over time to see trends. Are there any peaks and lows in sales? Is there any time of year during which sales are highest or lowest?
- Pivot the data to see total sales by quarter, country, category, and salesperson. Are there any highs? Are there any lows that need to be addressed?
- Subtotal the data. How are the quarterly sales’ totals? How are the sales by salesperson?
If you are feeling adventurous, you may want to try to perform a what-if analysis. For example, what if prices were raised by a certain percentage with a slight decline in sales? What combination of price increases and decline in sales makes the most sense? Regardless of which type of analysis you decide to take, you are required to provide three different analyses.
Your data-analysis activities will lead you to draw conclusions about sales highs and lows. Once you have determined items that are impacting sales, can you suggest solutions? For example, suppose you determine that the lowest sales are in Japan. Would you recommend that marketing in Japan be increased or that discounts for Japanese customers be increased? Are there any products you would suggest be discontinued based on lack of sales, or products that might be added to the mix due to high sales in that particular category? These are just some recommendations to get you started. Remember that you have been contracted by Northwind Traders to provide recommendations for changes that you believe will impact sales and increase the overall performance of the company. These recommendations should grow out of the conclusions you draw as you perform your data analysis. Let the results of your analysis draw the conclusions. Don’t make guesses; you need to have data to support your recommendations in your Memo.
Present the Evidence
The last step in the Excel project is to present your findings in a Memo. Use the integration techniques we worked on in the course to develop a recommendation Memo (Word document) that includes data and graphs copied and pasted from your spreadsheet. Use the Word template in Doc Sharing under the Course Project Materials as a starting point. Make sure to include an explanation in your Memo that shows your approach and outcome for each method of analysis you completed. Also, you will need to turn in both your recommendation Memo and your spreadsheet to the Drop Box. Remember that the Memo is just as important–if not more–as the analysis.