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How to Use Excel VLOOKUP - Examples
Get started with Excel VLOOKUP function examples. Videos, free workbooks, easy steps. Use VLOOKUP to find product price, or student grades. See how to find and fix VLOOKUP formula problems with troubleshooting.
Note: For flexible lookup formulas in Microsoft Excel 365, try the new XLOOKUP function.
What Does VLOOKUP Function Do?
The Microsoft Excel VLOOKUP function does a vertical lookup for a value in the first column in a table, and returns a value from a different column, in the same row, in that table.
In the sections below, VLOOKUP examples show how to find an approximate match, or an exact match, and get the data that you need from a lookup table.
What Goes in VLOOKUP Formula?
To look up data with the Excel VLOOKUP function, four pieces of information are used.
Those four items go in the VLOOKUP formula in a specific order, which is called its syntax. Each item in the syntax is called an argument.
VLOOKUP Function Syntax
The VLOOKUP function has the following syntax for its four arguments:
Here are the VLOOKUP arguments - the first 3 are required arguments, and the last one is an optional argument:
Watch this short video, to see how to make a VLOOKUP formula, to find a product price. The written steps are below the video.
Get the Product Price Lookup sample file to follow along with the video (download file #4).
Product Price VLOOKUP Example
In the sections below, you'll see how to build a simple order form, where you enter a product name, and the product price is automatically filled in for you.
Quick Look at Finished Workbook
Before you start building the VLOOKUP formulas, here's a quick look at the finished product.
In this example, there is an Excel workbook with 2 main sheets -- Products, and Order
1) Products sheet has a small lookup table with 2 columns of product information -- Product, and Price.
2) On the Order sheet, type a product name, and VLOOKUP formula finds price for that product
Product Price VLOOKUP Steps
Here are the main steps for creating the product price VLOOKUP formula
--1) Create Product Lookup table
--2) Make an Order Form
--3) Add Product Price VLOOKUP
The detailed instructions are in the sections below.
1) Create Product Lookup Table
The first step is to enter the product information on the Product worksheet
Format as Excel Table
Next, format the product list as a named Excel Table. The table will change size automatically, if you add or remove product details in the future.
Rename the Excel Table
Next, change the default name that Excel gave to the new table on the spreadsheet. This step isn't required, but I find it helpful, when creating formulas later.
2) Make an Order Form
Next, follow these steps to set up a simple order form on the worksheet named Order.
Formulas will be added to cells B6 and B7 in the next steps.
3) Add Product Price VLOOKUP Formula
To find the Unit Price for a product, you'll create a VLOOKUP formula in cell B6.
First, enter a product name and quantity in the order form, to use for testing the new formula
Next, select cell B6, and type this VLOOKUP formula, then press Enter:
VLOOKUP Arguments in this Formula
There are 4 arguments in the VLOOKUP function, and here's how they are used in this formula:
4) Add Total Price Formula
The final step is to add a Total Price formula -- the quantity multiplied by the unit price for the product.
Select cell B7, and type this formula, then press Enter:
In that formula, the * (asterisk) operator multiplies the quantity (B5) by the unit price (B6), to calculate the total price.
Finally, for an additional test, type a different product name and quantity, to see the VLOOKUP formula result.
Ex 2: Product Price for Quantity
In this example, there are 4 columns for product pricing, based on the minimum quantity ordered.
In cell H5, the following formula finds the price, based on product name,. and quantity ordered.
VLOOKUP is combined with MATCH, to get the correct price.
This video shows the steps for building the VLOOKUP and MATCH formula. Also, you'll see a problem that can occur if the data is in a named Excel Table.
Ex 3: Student Grades - Approximate Match
In some situations, an VLOOKUP approximate match is preferred, so several values will return the same result. For example, when grading student papers,
By using approximate matches, we won't need to create a lookup table with every possible score, from zero to 100. We only need 5 rows in the lookup table, as shown in this screen shot.
To view the steps for creating this formula, please watch the VLOOKUP video shown below. The written instructions are below the video.
In this example, the lookup table is created on a sheet named Grades.
To create the lookup table:
The scores are entered on a sheet named Report Card, where a VLOOKUP formula calculates the grade.
In the screen shot below, the formula has been copied down to row 6, and the you can see the formula in cell C6.
Ex 4: Find Column Number with MATCH
Instead of typing the column number into a VLOOKUP formula, use the MATCH function to find the correct column in the lookup table. This has a couple of benefits:
This video shows the steps, and there are written instructions for another example, below the video.
VLOOKUP With MATCH for Order Details
In this example, a VLOOKUP formula will return the order details from a lookup table, based on the order ID number. Here is the lookup table, named tblOrders.
NOTE: This example is in Sample Workbook #1, on the sheet named OrdersMATCH.
Here is the worksheet with the VLOOKUP formulas. We want the Region, Order Date and Order Amount for each order, so 3 VLOOKUP formulas are needed.
If the column numbers are typed in the formula, a different formula is needed in each column:
The MATCH Function
Instead of typing the column number in the VLOOKUP formula, we can use the MATCH function. The MATCH function finds the position of an item in a list, and returns the position number.
In the screen shot below, the MATCH formula returns 2 as the position of "Region", in the heading cells (A1:D1) for the lookup table.
=MATCH(C5, Orders_ALL!$A$1:$D$1, 0)
NOTE: For this technique to work correctly, the headings on the VLOOKUP sheet must match the lookup table headings exactly. To ensure an exact match, the VLOOKUP heading cells are linked to the lookup table heading cells.
Add MATCH to VLOOKUP
To add the MATCH function to the VLOOKUP formula, just replace the typed column number
with the MATCH formula, using absolute references to the heading cells on the orders table:
=VLOOKUP($B6, tblOrdersALL, MATCH(C5, Orders_ALL!$A$1:$D$1, 0),0)
Copy the VLOOKUP Formula Across
Now, instead of needing a different formula in each column, you can copy the formula across, and use the same formula in all the columns. In each column, it will refer to the heading cell in that column, and find its position in the lookup table.
NOTE: If you are filling the formula across columns with different formatting, follow these steps:
Ex 5: Partial VLOOKUP With Wildcards
In addition to looking for specific text values, you can also use wildcards with the VLOOKUP function.
The following wildcard characters in Excel represent unknown characters, before, between, or after, other characters
Find Text String in Lookup Column
In the example shown below, there are two asterisk wildcards in the formula, before and after the reference to cell B2:
=VLOOKUP("*" & B2 & "*",E1:F9,2,FALSE)
The formula finds the first month name that contains the letter that's typed in cell B2, and returns that month's ID number
Use Multiple Wildcards
One or more wildcards can be used in the lookup value.
In the screen shot below, there are two asterisk wildcards in the formula, and a question mark wildcard in cell B2.
Ex 6: Check Multiple Lookup Tables
Usually a VLOOKUP formula checks a single table to find a lookup value. However, if you need to check multiple tables, you can use the IFERROR function with VLOOKUP.
In this example, there are lookup tables for three regions, - West, East and Central, with details on orders placed in each region.
The order details list on each region's sheet has been set as a named range:
For example, on the Central region's order sheet, shown below, cells A1:D6 is named as OrdersC
Get Details for Order ID
On a sheet named Orders, you can enter an Order ID, in cell B6.
In cells C6 to E6, there are VLOOKUP formulas, with IFERROR. Those formulas check each named range, and return the information about the selected order ID number.
Set up VLOOKUP and IFERROR Formulas
To create the VLOOKUP and IFERROR formulas, follow these steps:
This checks the OrdersE table and if an error is found, checks OrdersW table, then OrdersC. If the OrderID is not found in any of the three tables, the Not Found message is shown in the cell.
Ex 7: VLOOKUP for Combined Values
In some tables, there might not be unique values any column in the lookup table.
For example, in the table shown below, Jacket is listed twice in column A. However, there is only one record for each unique jacket and size combination:
If you need to find the price for a large jacket, a VLOOKUP based only on column A would return the price for the first jacket listed (Medium).
You would be underpricing the jacket -- selling it for 60.00, instead of 65.00.
Create Unique Lookup Combinations
To create unique lookup values, you can insert a new column at the left side of the table, and use a formula to combine the product and size.
Add New Column and Formula
To create a unique lookup value, follow these steps:
That formula combines three things, using the & (ampersand) operator:
Create VLOOKUP with Combined Product and Size
Then, in a VLOOKUP formula, combine the product and size as the Lookup_value. In cell H1, the formula combines the value in F1 and the pipe character and the value in G1.
=VLOOKUP(F1 & "|" &G1,$A$2:$D$5,4,FALSE)
VLOOKUP Problems & Troubleshooting
Occasionally, you might run into problems when using the VLOOKUP function.
In the sections below, you'll find tips for avoiding problems, and steps for fixing problems that do occur.
--1) VLOOKUP Problems to Watch For
--2) Troubleshoot VLOOKUP formula
--3) Problems When Sorting VLOOKUP formula
--4) Faster VLOOKUP with COUNTIF
--5) Video Transcript: Fix VLOOKUP Error
1) VLOOKUP Problems to Watch For
The VLOOKUP function can cause a few problems, so here are a couple things to watch for, when using this function in your Excel workbooks -- slow calculation and sorting problems.
VLOOKUP can be slow, especially when doing a text string match, in an unsorted table, where an exact match is requested.
To make VLOOKUP as fast as possible, try these tips:
Note: Other functions, such as INDEX and MATCH, or XLOOKUP, can be used to return values from a table, and can be faster
After you create a VLOOKUP formula, it might return the correct results at first. However, it might change to incorrect results later, after the list of items is sorted. This sorting problem can cause serious problems, if you don't notice that the results have changed. You could end up charging the wrong prices for all of your products!
To see what causes this problem, and how to fix the problem, and avoid the problem in the future. go to the Problems When Sorting VLOOKUP formula section, further down on this page. There are written steps, and a short video that shows the problem and the fix.
2) Troubleshoot VLOOKUP formula
Your VLOOKUP formula may return an #N/A, even though the value you're looking for appears to be in the lookup table. Common causes for this are:
A) Text vs. Number
A common cause for this error is that one of the values is a number, and the other is text. For example, the lookup table may contain '123 (text), and the value to look up is 123 (a number).
1. Lookup values are Text, and the table contains Numbers
If the lookup table contains numbers, and the value to look up is text, use a formula similar to the following:
=VLOOKUP(--A7, Products!$A$2:$C$5,3, FALSE)
The double unary (--) converts text to a number, and will work correctly even if the lookup values are numbers.
2. Lookup values are Numbers, and the table contains Text
If the lookup table contains text, and the value to look up is numeric, use a formula similar to the following:
=VLOOKUP(A7 & ""),Products!$A$2:$C$5,3,FALSE)
The TEXT function converts a number to text, and will work correctly even if the lookup values are text. In the first example, the & operator creates a text string from an unformatted number. In the second example, a number formatted with leading zeros (e.g. 00123) would match a text "number" with leading zeros.
Video: Text vs Numbers
To see the steps for fixing the VLOOKUP problem when the lookup table has text values, watch this short video tutorial. The full transcript for this video is further down the page.
B) Spaces in one value, and not the other
Another potential cause for no matching value being found is a difference in spaces. One of the values may contain leading spaces (or trailing, or embedded spaces), and the other doesn't. To test the values, you can use the LEN function, to check the length of each value.
For example: =LEN(A7) will return the number of characters in cell A7. It should be equal to the number of characters in the matching cell in the lookup table.
If possible, remove the unnecessary spaces, and the VLOOKUP formula should work correctly. If you can't remove the spaces, use the TRIM function in the VLOOKUP, to remove leading, trailing or duplicate spaces. For example:
C) Other Characters
If TRIM function alone doesn't solve the problem, you can try one of the following suggestions:
Use the SUBSTITUTE function to remove unwanted characters. There is an example on the Contextures blog: Clean Excel Data With TRIM and SUBSTITUTE
Another way to fix VLOOKUP problems is with the CLEAN function, which can remove some unwanted characters from the text. There is more information on the CLEAN function in this Contextures blog post: 30 Excel Functions in 30 Days: 29 - CLEAN
In some cases, your data might have hidden characters, copied from a website, and the Excel CODE function doesn't recognize those characters. I ran into that problem, and wrote about it on my Contextures blog.
Usually those characters are at the start or end of the text, and my blog article describes how to find those characters, and use them in your VLOOKUP formula.
Clean Hidden Characters From Data
Instead of using the hidden characters in the VLOOKUP formula, you might prefer to clean the data, and get rid of the hidden characters. If so, the steps below show how to extract the characters from the cell value, using the LEFT and RIGHT functions. Then do a Find and Replace, using those extracted characters
NOTE: Before trying this technique, make a backup copy of your workbook.
1) Extract Hidden Characters
In this example, one of the values with hidden characters was copied to a blank sheet, and pasted in cell B2
Both cells might look empty, after you enter the formulas, if they return hidden characters
2) Find and Replace Hidden Characters
Next, if either cell looks empty, try this find/replace technique:
That might fix the problem, and if not, try the same steps, but copy the other empty cell, to Find and Replace its value
3) Problems When Sorting VLOOKUP formula
A VLOOKUP formula may return the correct results at first, but then shows incorrect results if the list of items is sorted. This can occur if the reference to the Lookup value includes a sheet name. For example:
=VLOOKUP('Order Form'!B5, Products!$B$2:$C$6,2,FALSE)
NOTE: This problem can occur with other functions too, such as an INDEX/MATCH lookup formula.
Watch this video to see the steps for fixing the problem, and download the VLOOKUP Sorting problem sample file to follow along. The written instructions are below the video.
Sheet Names in Reference
This type of reference is created if you click on another sheet while building the formula. As soon as you do that, Excel adds the sheet name to any subsequent references in the formula.
In the screen shot above, Dress is in cell B9, and cell C9 shows the correct price of $30.
However, after sorting the products A-Z, the Dress moves up to cell B5, but the formula in cell C5 continues to refer to cell B9. Because of the sheet names in the references, Excel retains the original references, instead of keeping a reference to the current row. Cell C5 is showing the price for a Sweater, instead of a Dress. ▲TOP
Fix the Problem
To solve the problem, remove any unnecessary sheet names from the VLOOKUP cell references. Here is the revised formula for cell C5:
=VLOOKUP(B5, Products!$B$2:$C$6,2, FALSE)
After the unnecessary sheet names are removed, the list can be safely sorted, and the correct results will show for each item.
4) Faster VLOOKUP with COUNTIF
The VLOOKUP function can be slow when doing an exact match for a text string.
In this example, the VLOOKUP formula will find the exact price for a selected product, without using the Exact Match setting.
IMPORTANT: To prevent incorrect results, the lookup table must be sorted by the first column, in ascending order (A-Z)
Here is the formula in cell C7:
Here's how the IF formula works, with these 3 arguments:
In the screen shot below, the correct price was returned:
5) Video Transcript: Fix VLOOKUP Error
Here is the full transcript for the Numbers and Text Troubleshooting video shown above.
Usually the VLOOKUP formula in Excel works very well. We could enter product code, and the VLOOKUP formula would return the product name or price for that product code.
But in this example, we've typed a code here.
We can see that code in the table but the VLOOKUP is returning an N/A error.
In the formula bar, you can see that VLOOKUP formula.
So it should be giving us the product but it isn't. So we'll do a bit of troubleshooting, to see what the problem is, and how we can solve it
Values Not Equal
Sometimes the problem is, things that look the same on the worksheet, aren't really a match.
We'll see if what we typed in B8 is really a match for what's in B2.
In this cell, I'm going to just do a simple test.
It's coming back FALSE, so there's something different about these values
So how can we fix this?
Fix Values Not Equal
If we select all these cells, one way to fix it, would be to change all of these to numbers, so they match the values we're going to type in here as numbers.
To do that, I can:
That's automatically changed all of these to numbers, and you can see that our VLOOKUP is working correctly now.
So it's showing me that 123 is the product called Paper.
Change VLOOKUP Formula
In some cases, you can't change your lookup table, so we can change our lookup formula.
Here we have VLOOKUP(B7
So, whatever is in B7, look up in this table. And it can't find this number, because this is text.
So we'll change this lookup to text.
So now this used to be a number. When we add an empty string, it's going to automatically become text
I'll press Enter, and now what's entered as a number here, it's converted that to text, so it matches what's in here.
You can add an empty string in your VLOOKUP formula to convert numbers to text, so the lookups work correctly.
Get the Sample Files
VLOOKUP Number/Text Troubleshooting
Last updated: February 25, 2023 2:46 PM