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Understanding VLOOKUP and XLOOKUP in Excel: A Shopping Mall Analogy

Excel is a powerful tool, but its true potential shines when you learn how to use its functions effectively. Today, we'll explore two of Excel's most valuable functions: VLOOKUP and XLOOKUP. To make it easy to understand, we'll use a simple analogy of a shopping mall with customer membership levels and their corresponding discounts.

The Shopping Mall Analogy

Imagine you're the manager of a shopping mall, and you have a list of customers along with their membership levels. Your mall offers different discounts based on these membership levels: Platinum, Gold, and Silver.

  • Customer List Table:

  • Customer Name: Alice, Bob, Charlie

  • Membership Level: Platinum, Gold, Silver

  • Discount Table:

  • Membership Level: Platinum, Gold, Silver

  • Discount: 50%, 35%, 20%

Your goal is to match each customer with their respective discount based on their membership level. This is where VLOOKUP and XLOOKUP come into play.

VLOOKUP: The Classic Tool

VLOOKUP stands for "Vertical Lookup." It allows you to search for a value in the first column of a table and return a value in the same row from another column. Think of it as looking up a customer's membership level and finding their discount in another list.

Example: Using VLOOKUP

Here’s how you set it up in Excel:

  1. Customer List Table

2. Discount Table

3. Using VLOOKUP to find Discounts (C2)

When you copy this formula down, Excel will look up each membership level in the Discount Table and return the appropriate discount.

4. Result Table:

XLOOKUP: The Modern Solution

XLOOKUP is a more flexible and powerful function introduced in Excel 2019. It simplifies the process and overcomes some limitations of VLOOKUP, such as not requiring the lookup value to be in the first column and allowing for searches in both vertical and horizontal ranges.

Example 1: Using XLOOKUP

  1. The setup of the tables remains the same, but the formula changes:

With XLOOKUP, you specify the lookup value (B2), the lookup array ($F$2:$F$4), and the return array ($G$2:$G$4).

2. Result Table:

Example 2: Showing XLOOKUP Flexibility

Now, let's demonstrate the flexibility of XLOOKUP by using it to look up a discount where the level isn't in the first column. This is something VLOOKUP cannot do unless the lookup value is in the first column.

  1. Updated Discount Table

2. XLOOKUP Formula in cell C2:

3. The result:


This example demonstrates how XLOOKUP's flexibility allows you to look up values and return results even when the lookup and return columns are not adjacent or are rearranged. This capability significantly enhances the usability and robustness of your Excel formulas.


Both VLOOKUP and XLOOKUP are powerful tools for matching and retrieving data in Excel. While VLOOKUP has been a staple for many years, XLOOKUP offers greater flexibility and efficiency. Understanding how to use these functions can significantly enhance your data analysis capabilities, whether you're managing customer discounts in a shopping mall or handling more complex datasets.

By mastering these functions, you can streamline your workflows and make your data work harder for you. Happy Excel-ing!

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