excel logo

Pivot Tables are an amazing built-in reporting tool in Excel. While typically used to summarize data with totals, you can also use them to calculate the percentage of change between values. Even better: It is simple to do.

You could use this technique to do all kinds of things—pretty much anywhere you’d like to see how one value compares to another. In this article, we’re going to use the straightforward example of calculating and displaying the percent by which the total sales value changes month by month.

Here’s the sheet we’re going to use.

Two years of sales data for a PivotTable

It’s a pretty typical example of a sales sheet that shows the order date, customer name, sales rep, total sales value, and a few other things.

To do all this, we’re first going to format our range of values as a table in Excel and we’re then going to create a Pivot Table to make and display our percentage change calculations.

Formatting the Range as a Table

If your data range is not already formatted as a table, we’d encourage you to do so. Data stored in tables have multiple benefits over data in cell ranges of a worksheet, especially when using PivotTables (read more about the benefits of using tables).

To format a range as a table, select the range of cells and click Insert > Table.

Create Table dialog to specify the range of cells

Check that the range is correct, that you do have headers in the first row of that range, and then click “OK.”

The range is now formatted as a table. Naming the table will make it easier to refer to in the future when creating PivotTables, charts, and formulas.

Click the “Design” tab under Table Tools, and enter a name in the box provided at the start of the Ribbon. This table has been named “Sales.”

Name the Table in Excel

You can also change the style of the table here if you want.

Create a PivotTable to Display Percentage Change

Now let’s get on with creating the PivotTable. From within the new table, click Insert > PivotTable.

The Create PivotTable window appears. It will have automatically detected your table. But you could select the table or range you want to use for the PivotTable at this point.

The Create PivotTable window

Group the Dates into Months

We will then drag the date field that we want to group by into the rows area of the PivotTable. In this example, the field is named Order Date.

From Excel 2016 on, date values are automatically grouped into years, quarters and months.

If your version of Excel does not do this, or you simply want to change the grouping, right-click a cell containing a date value and then select the “Group” command.

Group dates in a PivotTable

Select the groups you want to use. In this example, only Years and Months are selected.

Specifying Years and Months in the Group dialog

The year and month are now fields which we can use for analysis. The months are still named as Order Date.

Years and Order Date fields in Rows

Add the Value Fields to the PivotTable

Move the Year field from Rows and into the Filter area. This enables the user to filter the PivotTable for a year, rather than clutter the PivotTable with too much information.

Drag the field containing the values (Total sales Value in this example) you want to calculate and present change into the Values area twice.

It might not look like much yet. But that will change very soon.

Sales value field added twice to the PivotTable

Both value fields will have defaulted to sum and currently have no formatting.

The values in the first column we would like to keep as totals. They do however require formatting.

Right-click on a number in the first column and select “Number Formatting” from the shortcut menu.

Choose the “Accounting” format with 0 decimals from the Format Cells dialog.

The PivotTable now looks like this:

Formatting the first column

Create the Percentage Change Column

Right-click on a value in the second column, point to “Show Values,” and then click the “% Difference from” option.

Show values as a percentage difference

Select “(Previous)” as the Base Item. This means that the current month value is always compared to the previous months (Order Date field) value.

Select Previous as the base item to compare to

The PivotTable now shows both the values and the percentage change.

Show values and percentage change

Click in the cell containing Row Labels and type “Month” as the header for that column. Then click in the header cell for the second values column and type “Variance”.

Rename the headers of the PivotTable

Add Some Variance Arrows

To really polish off this PivotTable, we would like to visualize the percentage change better by adding some green and red arrows.

These will provide us with a lovely way of seeing whether a change has been positive or negative.

Click on any one of the values in the second column and then click Home > Conditional Formatting > New Rule. In the Edit Formatting Rule window that opens, take the following steps:

  1. Select the “All cells showing “Variance” values for Order Date” option.
  2. Select “Icon Sets” from the Format Style list.
  3. Select the red, amber and green triangles from the Icon Style list.
  4. In the Type column, change the list option to say “Number” instead of Percentage. This will change the Value column to 0’s. Exactly what we want.

Applying variance icons with Conditional Formatting

Click “OK” and the Conditional Formatting is applied to the PivotTable.

The completed variance PivotTable

PivotTables are an incredible tool and one of the simplest ways to display the percentage change over time for values.

Alan Murray Alan Murray
Alan Murray has worked as an Excel trainer and consultant for twenty years. On most days, he can be found teaching Excel in a classroom or seminar. Alan gets a buzz from helping people improve their productivity and working lives with Excel.
Read Full Bio »