5 min read

"CSV files are just plain text data, they can't cause any damage to my site.” Wrong!

Published on
December 27, 2023

CSV (Comma-Separated Values) files are a popular and easy-to-use data format for storing and sharing tabular data, such as spreadsheets or databases. The plain text data format makes them easy to read and edit in any text editor or spreadsheet app. As a result, many online platforms and e-commerce sites, like Shopify, support CSV file imports, allowing store owners to easily add or modify large amounts of data, such as product catalogs or customer lists.

However, despite their simplicity, CSV files can cause a wide range of issues if not used correctly. One small mistake or misplaced character in a CSV file can wreak havoc on an entire store’s inventory, leading to lost or missing data, incorrect prices, or missing images. These issues can significantly damage the store’s reputation and customer trust if not resolved quickly.

In this chapter, we’ll share a specific example of how day-to-day work with such a common tool as Shopify CSV files can lead to an unpleasant situation, waste of time, and loss of money. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We’ll also share 10 useful tips for working with CSVs in your store that will help you avoid potential issues with your product catalog and order history.

The Heartbreaking Story of Laura and Her Lost Jewels

Laura reached out to our support team to request the restoration of her entire store, but unfortunately, we were unable to assist her due to her recent installation of our app and our lack of access to her prior data. Understandably, this was a frustrating experience for Laura, and our specialist empathized deeply with her, working closely to understand what happened and providing helpful tips to resolve the issue.

So Laura runs this amazing online store on Shopify where she sells beautiful handmade jewelry. As her business grew and required advanced product management, she decided to streamline the organization of her products by incorporating article numbers in Google Sheets. She exported all her products to the spreadsheet, added the article numbers, and then imported them back into Shopify.

However, she soon realized that only the main image of each product had been imported, and all the other images were missing. This posed a major problem for her business, as product images played a crucial role in showcasing her products and helping customers make informed decisions.

Feeling helpless and panicked, Laura immediately contacted Shopify’s support team to seek assistance in rolling back the site to a previous version. However, she was disappointed to learn that Shopify does not allow store owners to restore altered data.

She sought help from backup apps on Shopify’s app store, only to find out that they couldn’t assist her. The reason is that the necessary data needed to be backed up beforehand, but unfortunately, this was not done. Laura was devastated. She had put a lot of time and effort into her store, and this setback threatened to undo all her hard work. She realized that she would have to go through all of her products manually one by one and re-add the missing images, a task that would take days, if not weeks, to complete.

What happened to Laura?

After investigating Laura’s issue with missing product images, our tech team discovered that the problem was caused by sorting the columns in Excel before importing the data back into Shopify. Unfortunately, Shopify’s system didn’t recognize the new order of the rows and failed to import the corresponding product images correctly.

How can I prevent my store from crashing due to incorrect CSVs?

We shared Laura’s story with you to highlight the potential dangers of working with CSV files. Unfortunately, technical issues like this are common, as incorrect or broken CSVs can cause a multitude of problems for online store owners. On Shopify, importing products from CSV can be really dangerous. While CSVs are a useful tool for importing a large amount of data, a single error or misplaced character in a CSV file can wreak havoc on an entire store’s inventory, causing lost or missing data, incorrect prices, or missing images. This could potentially damage the store’s reputation and customer trust if not resolved quickly.

Here are some of the issues that our customers have faced while working with CSV files, and this list is far from exhaustive:

  • Unintentionally deleting products or product information
  • Overwriting existing product information, such as titles, descriptions, and prices
  • Replacing product descriptions with random symbols
  • Broken links to product images
  • Incorrectly sorted data causing wrong product image assignment
  • Deletion of variant images due to changes in variant names
  • Duplicate product or variant information
  • Broken SKU links and incorrect inventory management
  • Incomplete or unavailable products on the storefront
  • Corruption of product data due to incorrect file formatting or encoding

While importing data to your Shopify store, using a reliable app like BackupMaster with built-in error-checking features can provide an additional layer of security. CSV files are also incredibly useful and sometimes necessary, such as when migrating your

data from one platform to another or making changes to your store in bulk. To ensure the smooth operation of your store, it’s crucial to follow all of Shopify’s recommendations when working with CSV files. Even the slightest mistake can wreak havoc on your product catalog and overwrite or delete valuable data. To avoid such issues, we recommend checking out Shopify’s guidelines on using CSV files.

10 Useful Tips for Working with CSVs in Your Store

As a Shopify store owner, there are practical measures you can take to reduce the risks associated with CSV files. Often, people overlook certain aspects when working with CSV files due to a lack of awareness. By being mindful of these factors, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of encountering problems when importing CSV files to your website.

  1. Review the data: Always double-check the CSV file for errors or formatting issues before importing it into your store. Remove any duplicate data in the CSV file before importing the data into your store.
  2. Use recommended tools for viewing and editing: Shopify recommends using Google Sheets to view and edit your CSV files. With Google Sheets, you can easily apply formatting to your data and manipulate it in various ways to spot errors or inconsistencies that need to be addressed before importing the file into your Shopify store.
  3. Verify Categories and Collections: If you are importing data into a specific product category or collection, ensure that the category or collection exists in your store beforehand. This will prevent any errors during the import process.
  4. Divide large CSV files into smaller ones: If your CSV file contains a large amount of data, consider breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks to make the import process smoother.
  5. Validate the data: Keep in mind that some fields in your store may have specific requirements or formatting rules. Ensure that your data in the CSV file meets these requirements before importing it.
  6. Check the URLs of uploaded images: During data import, make sure that any images included in the import file point to publicly accessible URLs. Failure to do so can cause Shopify to incorrectly load the images, leading to errors in the import process.
  7. Use a staging store for testing: Test your CSV import on a staging or development environment before importing it into your live store. This will help you catch any errors or issues before they affect your customers.
  8. Adopt standard names for your CSV files: Create a standard naming convention for your CSV files to help you stay organized and easily identify different data sets. For example, use a naming convention like “ProductData_YYYYMMDD.csv” to indicate the date the file was created.
  9. Backup your store: Protect your Shopify store from CSV import mishaps by implementing a reliable backup system like BackupMaster. Have a recent backup copy before importing any CSV files to your Shopify store. This will help mitigate any potential consequences that may arise during the import process.
  10. Use reliable apps: When editing CSV files in bulk, using specific third-party apps can help streamline the process. Have a backup copy before using any third-party apps. We recommend using reputable apps that support CSV editing, including Shopify bulk editor, Hextom: Bulk Product Edit, Ablestar Bulk Product Editor, and Matrixify (which offers a useful Dry Run feature to test file conversion without importing it).


CSV files can be incredibly useful when it comes to managing and updating large amounts of data. However, it’s important to note that while CSV files can be a convenient way to import data into your store, they can also be a potential source of errors. These errors can cause chaos in your store, leading to a loss of customer trust and revenue in the end. Laura’s experience with her Shopify store highlights the importance of taking precautions when working with CSV files. By understanding the risks associated with CSV files and implementing appropriate mitigation measures, you can avoid potential disasters and ensure the security and accuracy of your data. Remember to always validate your data before importing, limit access to CSV files, and provide appropriate training to your team. Finally, if you encounter a CSV import error, stay calm, and follow the steps outlined in this article to rectify the situation.

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Alex Tchórzewski
Customer Engagement and Security Manager, BackupMaster