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Feb 08 2022

Off-the-Shelf Software vs Custom Software


Continuous growth and prosperity are two goals all businesses strive to achieve and maintain.

And oftentimes, choosing the right software program can help take you there - clearing obstacles, boosting efficiency, and increasing long-term profitability.

So the question is, should you choose to have your own custom-built software, or do you opt for "off-the-shelf" software?

Let's dive right in and explain the difference between generic software and custom software.

What is Off-the-Shelf Software?


Much like it sounds this software is your everyday, standard type of solution that can be easily accessed and purchased.

Off-the-shelf software are mass-produced, ready to be implemented, and have features that provide well-rounded solutions for a wide range of customers.

It can be bought as a one-time fee, through a subscription plan, or can even be downloaded for free.

Think of it as a one-size-fits-all software product. A software platform that's built to solve a broad spectrum of common problems businesses face.

Popular examples include the Microsoft Office Suite, Adobe products like Photoshop and Illustrator, and mobile payment software like PayPal.

So, what are some of the benefits of off-the-shelf software? And where does it fall short?

Off-the-Shelf Software Advantages and Disadvantages



1. More Affordable... At First 

In most cases, the upfront investment is more affordable than custom-crafted software.

Off-the-shelf software is created for the masses and thus its costs are allocated across numerous users.

Making the final price of this software cheaper than building your own custom software from the ground up.

2. Readily-Accessible & Fast Implementation

You purchase the software, download it, and can immediately begin using it.

No need to wait on the development and execution of the software - it's already been done.

For those who are looking for a quick, accessible, and easily implemented solution this is your best bet.

3. A Community of Users and Feedback

Since this software is used by the masses, there's a community of like-minded individuals who use the same product.

Here, you'll be able to ask questions, see how others are using the software, and quickly find solutions to common problems you're facing or bugs you're encountering.

Reviews and customer feedback greatly help you decide on the right software fit for your business.

And, it may greatly reduce the time you spend searching for that right fit.

4. Customer Support & Updates

Most standard software includes some form of support, though not all do so keep an eye out for that.

Support usually comes in several different forms:

  • Direct phone calls & 24/7 call centers

  • Email conversations

  • Live chat with customer representatives

  • Community forums or Support web page

  • "Help" functions built internally in the system

On top of support, you benefit from having regular software updates that fix bugs, introduce new features, and create an overall better user experience.



1. Sorry... You're Not in Control

Unfortunately, you have no control over the software's features and functionality. You can't contribute to, modify, or remove any of the code.

And oftentimes, you'll find that software updates will come and go.

And along with them, the features and quality-of-life improvements that you loved and relied on.

This might even cause your team to move away from a software program you're familiar with if they discontinue support for workflow features that benefitted your team most.

2. Inflexible as You Grow

As your team expands, off-the-shelf can begin to feel unfit and inflexible.

You might be looking to broaden your horizons by adding new business departments that your existing software doesn't support.

Or, the cost for upgrading your software plan to accommodate more users/roles might not be justifiable for the price and features you won't use or benefit from.

The software you use should complement and work fluidly alongside your business operations — not push you to make unreasonable adjustments.

3. One-Size-Fits-All Solutions

Being that it's created to help a wide range of individuals and businesses, these solutions can only be as relevant as they are relatable to your business and its needs.

Which, naturally, is going to be limited by the nature of this standard software.

You might only need features A-M from off-the-shelf software but, you're also going to get features N-Z that you don't need.

Features that will never be used, are unable to be disabled, and may even end up slowing processes down or confusing other users.

Oh, and you're paying for that too.

4. Initial Investment "Oops"

While it may seem more affordable now, the short-run costs will eventually add up.

These recurring payments can snowball into a significant long-run cost with licensing or subscription fees and possible necessities like upgrading to a premium plan to support your growing team.

Not only that, but the costs of the platform can also increase as new updates and features are rolled out.

Subscription plans give the illusion of being more affordable at first — as they spread the cost of the platform over several months.

But in reality, the perpetual rates can end up costing more than a custom solution in the long run.

Speaking of custom solutions, let's pivot and talk about what custom software solutions are.

What is Custom Software?


You might be asking yourself, why is it necessary to customize certain types of software?

Well, the answer is actually more simple than you might think.

Every business is unique. They face their own set challenges — many of which are best solved with custom solutions specifically designed to tackle those challenges.

And, not all software packages include the features, processes, or integrations you need.

That's where custom-built software shines.

Custom software, also known as custom-made software or custom-built software, is software specifically crafted for an organization or group of users with the goal of satisfying unique challenges and requirements.

You dictate exactly what it looks like, what it does, and how it fits into your organization as a whole.

This means no excess features you won't benefit from and no need to wait on software updates to improve your platform.

You have the freedom to have your custom software developer add or remove features and fix bugs at your discretion.

Sounds pretty nice, right?

Well, let's take a look into the advantages and disadvantages of custom-built software.

Custom Made Software Advantages and Disadvantages



1. Scalability

Custom software is developed with scalability in mind.

It's crafted to be a living, breathing platform that aligns itself with your business objectives, requirements, and identity.

Unlike off-the-shelf software, custom software is created with the flexibility of being easily adaptable to the ever-changing needs of your organization.

With generic software packages, you can find yourself waiting a long time for the improvements your thriving team is looking for.

Send the requests to your custom software development partner and sit back as they crank out new, scalable features uniquely designed for your team.

2. Competitive Advantage

Having your own custom-made software means you have a competitive advantage — your own proprietary technology that distinguishes you as an authoritative figure in your industry.

It's something your competition cannot easily imitate or implement.

With its unique look, feel, and functionality you'll have something special. Something that your competition's customers might be looking for, too.

On top of that, having your own proprietary custom software means that you have the chance to impress other authoritative businesses.

Businesses that might even link out to your website and give you a nice, healthy backlink to help strengthen your visibility in search results.

3. Compatibility

It feels great when all of your devices, applications and other existing technology work seamlessly together.

Well, it's likely that your organization has other tools they're using. Tools that help keep your business rockin' and rollin'.

With custom software, it's much easier to introduce compatibility with your existing tools.

While some off-the-shelf software solutions may have integrations, they might not work as smoothly as you'd like. There could be limitations to what these integrations can accomplish, unnecessary steps involved, or even a sluggish interface that slows you down.

And, some generic software simply may not offer the type of integration functionality you're looking for at all.

4. Security

If security is a high priority for your organization, then siding with custom software development is your best option.

Hackers are already aware of the vulnerabilities of popular commercial software. And with its widespread availability, it's easier to get ahold of and decipher its weak spots.

Custom software is only used by your team, customers, and any other users you choose to grant access to. This greatly minimizes the risk of intrusions, data breaches, and other unwanted threats.

Its unique structure and composition can be thought of as a brick wall reinforced with a sheet of steel, helping provide you with the resilient security you deserve.

5. Intellectual Property

Not only do you take pride in owning your custom software, but you also have the benefit of it being your intellectual property (IP).

This further fuels your competitive advantage over businesses similar to yours.

On top of that, IP can be used to leverage the value of your products/services in your marketing efforts. Portraying your brand image as prestigious and capable.

IP can also help you acquire funding by using this asset as collateral to secure financial loans for your business' growth.

Lastly, you can benefit from licensing your custom software intellectual property to external parties — giving your business an additional source of income.

6. Unique

Unlike, commercial software packages, custom software is completely unique to you — there's no other like it on the market.

Being unique means more than just having cool-looking software that gets things done well.

Your custom software benefits from the advantage of being one-of-a-kind, and with that comes a slew of perks.

For example, we mentioned earlier that custom software security is superior to its generic software counterpart.

In this case, custom software's unique structural makeup differentiates it from any other software on the market, giving you even more peace of mind.

People also tend to enjoy the experience of using unique products. There's almost an "exclusive" feeling about it that makes them feel significant or special.

You'll have a one-of-a-kind experience with custom-tailored functionality that very well may be the driving force for others to do business with you.



1. Development time 

When you're in a pinch to get your hands on business software, custom software development might not be your best choice in this situation.

Creating software to suit your unique needs, requirements, and design choices means a longer development time.

And after development, the software will go through processes such as quality assurance and usability testing to ensure you receive the quality results you desired.

It could be a long time until the finished product is delivered depending on the scope of your software project.

2. Budget

The initial investment in custom software development is significantly higher than purchasing off-the-shelf software and can be a deterrent to people who are unsure of the commitment.

However, your investment is likely to pay off in the long run, especially with a successfully marketed launch.

But deciding whether your current budget is sufficient for covering the features and functionality you'd like your software to have can be a tough decision to make.

The good news is, you can always start off building your MVP (minimum viable product) and save the remaining features and functionality after you've accumulated or acquired more funding.

It's never too late to build upon your existing system, custom software is flexible and scalable after all.

Determining your custom software development budget can be a bit challenging. But we're here to make life easier.

Check out our custom software budget tool to estimate your next project budget.

3. Maintenance

A smooth, seamless custom software experience requires regular observation and analyses of its condition.

This way, you stay on top of bugs, adjust the software to new technologies, and implement other processes like preventative maintenance.

Unlike off-the-shelf software where the owner(s) handle security updates, bug fixes, and fresh overhauls, the maintenance falls into your custom software developer's hands.

And if you're looking to modify existing features or add entirely new ones, you'll have to assemble a list of requests and send them over to your custom software development partner.

Maintenance requires that you have an ongoing relationship with your custom software developer.

For those that don't want to feel too dependent on external partners, custom software might not be the right fit.

Making the Decision


Now it's time to start thinking about making a decision based on your circumstances.

We've covered the difference between generic software and custom software.

Additionally, we've discussed the advantages of using off-the-shelf software as well as the benefits of custom software.

It's important to reevaluate your business requirements, objectives, and budget.

Opt for off-the-shelf software for a low initial cost and quick implementation? Or choose custom software for its competitive advantages and scalability for your business?

The decision is tough, we understand. But, we're going to make things easier for you.

Check out the list of criteria below to help you choose the solution that works best for you.

Criteria for selecting Custom Software:

  • You want to be the owner of a custom-tailored solution that seamlessly meets your specific needs and aligns itself with your business for long-term scalability and growth.

  • You prioritize securing confidential information and data as well as the security of your customers and other stakeholders.

  • You desire high levels of integration and compatibility with existing technologies

  • You want to remove bottlenecks and other obstacles that hinder your productivity by eliminating the need to perform repetitive tasks.

  • You want to move towards reducing errors through automation and increasing overall efficiency and productivity.

  • You are willing and able to make an investment in your business's future by recognizing the potential for a substantial ROI from the boost in productivity, efficiency, and reduction in labor hours required.

  • You enjoy collaboration and don't mind working side-by-side with your custom software development partner.

Criteria for selecting Off-the-Shelf Software:

  • You are looking to get your hands on a comprehensive software package for your business immediately.

  • You desire a community of users to ask questions with and learn from; Having multiple channels of support is important to you.

  • You do not require a high level of compatibility or third-party support; Security is not among your highest priorities.

  • You would prefer the owner of the software handle new features, integrations, and maintenance.

  • You are unable to make a significant investment in your business's future.

  • You believe the ROI associated with custom software will not be satisfactory for your business.

  • You feel there are little-to-no opportunities for your business to capitalize on; Scalability doesn't seem as important right now.

Closing Thoughts


Both generic and customized software offer several solutions and benefits for their users.

Off-the-shelf software is useful when you need to implement software in a pinch, need an all-encompassing solution, and are looking for a readily-available and extensive support system.

While on the other hand

Custom-built software is best when you want more control over your software, are looking for scalable solutions, and are after a competitive advantage that distinguishes your business from industry competitors.

In the end, your decision is based on the circumstances that surround your business and what you're willing and able to do to ensure your business is equipped for success.

And we're here to help your business reach that level of success — just reach out and we'll happily answer any questions you have about custom software solutions.


Provided is a comparison between off-the-shelf software and custom software, highlighting the pros and cons of each. Off-the-shelf software is prebuilt software that can be purchased and used by multiple customers, while custom software is specifically designed and developed to meet the unique needs of an organization. The article explains that off-the-shelf software is generally less expensive and quicker to implement but may not fully meet the organization's requirements. On the other hand, custom software is more expensive and time-consuming to develop but provides a tailored solution that meets the organization's specific needs. The article also discusses the risks and challenges associated with each option, such as the potential for security vulnerabilities in off-the-shelf software and the need for ongoing maintenance and support for custom software. The article concludes by emphasizing the importance of considering the organization's goals, budget, and requirements when deciding between off-the-shelf and custom software.

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