What is a CSV File and How Is It Used For Ecommerce?

Here’s how to easily upload and download large quantities of data to and from your ecommerce site using CSV files.

Expanding your product offering is one of the key ways to grow your ecommerce business. But the more extensive your selection of products, the trickier it can become to update your store – making all your changes on each product page can become extremely time-consuming and a waste of resources.

Collating customer information can be equally challenging, especially if you’re manually copying and pasting information to collect data on past orders and user accounts.

So, what if we told you there’s a quicker and easier way to bulk upload hundreds of products and download all of your customer purchase information with a single click? The answer: use CSV files.

What is a CSV file or delimited file?

CSV stands for "Comma-Separated Value". A CSV file is essentially a plain text file that contains tables or spreadsheets of data and ends with the extension .csv.

The great thing about CSV files is that they are compatible with almost any text editor, from Microsoft Excel to Google Sheets to Numbers, making them easy to create, share, and edit.

A CSV file is also a type of delimited text file because it uses a comma to separate (delimit) values. There are other types of delimited text files, such as Tab-Separated Value (TSV) files which use a tab spacing to separate values.

What is a CSV file used for in ecommerce?

CSV files are used to upload and download data to and from ecommerce sites easily. Some examples of what you can do with CSV files include:

  • Bulk import new products to your ecommerce store
  • Update or edit existing product information
  • Add or update sellers and seller information if yours is a multi-vendor marketplace
  • Export customer account information and past order details
  • Download data on store discounts

The main advantage of using CSV files to update your ecommerce store is that the data is in plain text, not code. This means business owners like yourself can easily read, comprehend, and edit the information without expert help from a web developer or data specialist.

CSV files are also generally small in size, making their download and transfer of information faster and smoother, even for large amounts of data. This can be especially helpful if you're moving your ecommerce store from one domain or platform to another.

And as mentioned above, CSV files are universally compatible with a wide variety of text editors and don’t require any specialized programs to read or write.

How to use the Shopify sample products CSV template

When a CSV file is uploaded or imported onto Shopify, the platform automatically converts all the text data from the file into product information on your store.

To make things easier for sellers, we’ve created a CSV template that already includes all the necessary fields (columns) that need to be included in the final uploaded file.

Step 1: Download the template

If you’re a new seller who’s just starting your ecommerce store on Shopify (welcome!), you can easily upload your products using our CSV template.

First, download the sample product CSV file. It’s very important that you do not edit the first row of column headers as they must all be included, in the same order, for the file to be translatable by the Shopify platform.

Here’s what the file should look like:

View of the product template opened in an excel document.

Alternatively, if you are an existing seller who already has products in your Shopify store and you are looking to upload new ones, you need to first export (download) your existing products as a CSV file before editing accordingly.

Step 2: Edit the information

Fill in all the necessary information in the CSV file, and remember not to edit the first row of column headers. Here’s an explanation of what the CSV column headers mean and which data fields are required for the file to be valid.

Step 3: Import your CSV file

Once all the information in the spreadsheet has been updated, it’s time to import (upload) your CSV file to the Shopify platform and get your text data converted into product information.

After uploading your CSV file, you should see a preview screen to help you check that the information you’ve submitted is valid. If any errors are detected, here's where the platform will notify you to edit and resubmit your file.

If there are no errors, you should see a summary of what you’ve uploaded, including the number of products, SKUs, images, and whether or not you’ve chosen to overwrite any existing product information.

The preview screen for product imports shows you the title, description, product status, type and vendor listed for your products.

CAUTION: It is highly recommended that you save a backup of your original exported product data before importing your new CSV file in case of mistakes or broken image links.

FAQs about CSV files

What is CSV format?

A text file that has been saved in a CSV format contains text data in table or spreadsheet form. CSV stands for “Comma-Separated Value”, and CSV files can be read and edited by almost any text editing program, including Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, and Numbers.

What is a CSV file used for?

In ecommerce, you can use a CSV file to download and upload store data, including information on products and customers. Because only a single file import is needed to upload or edit multiple products at once, CSV files make store updates swift and easy.

What are the benefits of a CSV file?

CSV files present data in plain text, making it easy to read and edit by anyone, without the requirement of web development or coding skills. Because CSV is considered a standard format for text data, CSV files are easily compatible with many programs and platforms for analytics and more. CSV files are also generally smaller in size, making them an ideal format for downloading, uploading, and transferring even large amounts of data.

Save valuable time with Shopify mass upload products

Running an ecommerce business is challenging enough – you shouldn't have to spend too much time on manual processes like data entry. Using CSV files to import and export bulk volumes of data to and from your store can save you valuable time that would be better spent on growing your business. And with Shopify’s import function for mass upload of products, you can do exactly that.