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How to compare two Excel sheets using VLOOKUP? [FREE Template]



You are the boss of ACME Inc. And one day, both of your accountants Sara and James come to you with two versions of the customer payment data. How do you compare these two Excel sheets and reconcile the data? We can use VLOOKUP to do just that. In this article, let me explain the step-by-step process.

Step 1: Set up data in two Excel sheets

Copy both sets of data to two sheets in an Excel file. For example, here I have two sheets – one with Sara’s data and another with James’ data. Both datasets have identical columns, but the data is not same.

Compare two Excel sheets with VLOOKUP

Step 2: Start with the first sheet and write the VLOOKUP formula

Go to the first sheet. Here, we are going to use VLOOKUP (or XLOOKUP, if you have Excel 365) to get the matching value from second sheet.

For the purpose of this exercise, you need a unique identifier column like Customer ID or invoice number.

In the adjacent column we are going to write the VLOOKUP function to get the corresponding values for the customer ID’s from second sheet. The set up should look like this:

Spreadsheet set up for comparing two sheets

Step 3: The LOOKUP formula

Write the VLOOKUP formula like this:

VLOOKUP Formula Explanation:

  • VLOOKUP formula finds matching value from a range. For example, here we can use it to search for the customer ID and get their payment details.
  • B3: refers to the cell with customer ID
  • ‘James Sheet’!$B$3:$C$32: is the range of data in second Excel sheet which we are trying to match
  • 2: is the column number of the “Amount paid” column in second sheet.
  • FALSE: ensures that VLOOKUP will look for an exact match in the second sheet.
  • Learn more about VLOOKUP function.

Or if you prefer to use XLOOKUP formula, use this:

VLOOKUP formula for comparing two sheets

Fill this formula down so you can see the matching values from second sheet.

At the end of this step, your first sheet should look like this:

If you have any missing IDs, those cells should have #N/A.

#N/A error in VLOOKUP when the ID is missing in the second worksheet

Step 4: Reconcile the values

Now that you have the matching value from second Excel sheet, let’s reconcile both to see which values matched and which values are different.

For this, we can use IF formula. Here is the formula:

Using IF formula to reconcile the results of two sheet comparison

This formula compares the first sheet value with the second sheet value and tells us if they are same or different. It also checks for the #N/A error and flags those records as “Missing ID”.

Fill the formula down and you will have reconciliation information for your data.

Completed reconciliation of the data

Now you can use FILTERS in Excel to see all matching or not matching records easily.

Step 5: Conditional format the non-matching records

Using conditional formatting to highlight unmatched values

This optional step helps us quickly spot all the non-matching and missing ID values quickly.

To do this,

  1. Select the entire range of data (for example: B3:E32)
  2. Go to Home ribbon > Conditional Formatting and click on “new rule”
  3. Select the rule type as “Use a formula to determine the…”
  4. Type the rule as =$E3 = “Not matching” (refer to the below image)
  5. Set the formatting to highlight the non-matching records
  6. Click OK to add the rule.
  7. Add one more rule for “ID missing” highlight and repeat steps 3 to 6
conditional formatting rule

When you finish, your data will highlight all the non-matching and missing ID values in different color so you can easily identify them.

Related: Learn more about Excel conditional formatting feature.

FREE Comparison & Reconciliation Template

If you need a quick template to compare two Excel sheets and reconcile the data, download my sample file here.

Other techniques to reconcile and compare two Excel sheets:

While using VLOOKUP is a quick and elegant way to compare two spreadsheets, Excel also offers few more options. These are:

  • Power Query: We can use Power Query to compare two sheets or two workbooks of data and reconcile the differences between values. Power Query also makes it easy to compare when you have multiple ID columns (for example: Customer ID & Date as the criteria for comparison). Refer to my Power Query tutorial page for more information on how to combine data with it.
  • Using XLOOKUP instead of VLOOKUP: As demoed above, we can use the new XLOOKUP function in Excel to perform the comparison. This allows for built-in error handling so we can see “Missing IDs” easily. Read more about XLOOKUP function here.
  • Using Conditional formatting: Excel’s conditional formatting also offers a powerful and simple way to compare two lists of values. See this page for details.
  • Using formulas vs. Power Query: I discuss the approaches for comparing two Excel sheets with formulas and PQ in my YouTube video here.
  • Using Pivot Tables: Excel Pivot tables can link two tables of data on a key column (like customer ID) so you can easily compare values from both in one view. This feature is called relationships. Learn more about Table Relationships in Excel here.

In conclusion…

Comparing two Excel sheets is an easy task once you know how to use the VLOOKUP (or XLOOKUP) function in Excel. I have used this exact approach countless times when dealing with multiple versions of files or different versions of truth. The process is easy, and the results are actionable.


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