Excel vs. Access - What Are the Differences?

By Beekeeper Staff on January 28, 2016

pencil Image by r. nial bradshaw

Excel and Access are key products for analysts to consider when trying to decide between a spreadsheet or a simple database. Both of these Microsoft products are easy to use and offer strong help resources. While both applications can be used for data filtering, collation, and querying, their primary strengths are different. Excel is ultimately a tool for small-scale data analysis, while Access is the right choice for data storage and management. Let’s review some potential best uses and limitations of Access and Excel.


While Excel can be used for storage, it’s built for small-scale data analysis. It’s designed to provide nimble querying and assessment capabilities for data sets that consist of up to a 100,000 rows. Microsoft’s product team recommends using Excel if you need to:

  • Run statistical analyses
  • Summarize data using pivot tables
  • Perform simple data visualizations
  • Create ad-hoc reporting

Excel has the computational power to handle many reporting requests you receive on a daily basis. You may choose it if you need to:

  • Summarize sales volume by quarter
  • Determine the average employee age at your company
  • Create a line graph of customer acquisition

There’s no question that Excel is among the most user-friendly and accessible choices for small-scale analysis; however, there are some weaknesses. Excel may not fit your requirements if you are:

  • Sorting and manually updating data
  • Performing large-scale analysis
  • Attempting semi-structured data analysis on text
  • Trying to maintain multiple data users


In contrast to Excel, Access is designed for storage. If your goal is to maintain and protect important data, Access can provide storage while still allowing basic querying and analysis functions. Microsoft recommends using Access if you:

  • Perform manual data entry
  • Use recurrent data reporting
  • Have multiple data users
  • Combine multiple data sets or sources

This application may be a solid choice for maintaining and updating your company’s data assets. You may find that Access is the best option if your requirements resemble:

  • Entering accounts receivable data manually
  • Providing employees with limited permissions, such as “read only”
  • Generating custom data sets in response to colleague requests

Access can carry a slightly longer learning curve than Excel, and you may find that Access is not the right fit for you if you are:

  • The only person who needs access to data
  • Asked to summarize or analyze existing data sets
  • Tasked with ad hoc data visualizations


Both Excel and Access can offer significant benefits to business data users. While each tool has its own strengths and limitations, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Choosing the right tool is a matter of understanding your needs.

If your company scales its database needs and would like to automate and easily dispense its data internally and to clients with email reporting, Beekeeper Data is there to help. Curated data sent conveniently to email inboxes guides organizations toward better decisions and increases customer retention. Learn more about Beekeeper by installing for free or scheduling a demo.

Still Writing SQL in a Terminal?

Beekeeper is a free and full featured SQL IDE with query autocomplete, error detection, dataset previews, and result visualization. We support SparkSQL, Hive, Postgres and more!

Create your account »

Beekeeper Staff bio photo

Beekeeper Staff

Business marketing, sales, and growth expertise.

Beekeeper Data