Nov 12, 2020

What Is the Difference Between Custom and Off-the-Shelf Software for Your Business?

Every business faces the choice of developing or purchasing software. In order to decide, you need to understand what is the difference between custom vs. off-the-shelf software.

Marina Sharapova
Marina Sharapova

The software that powers your business processes is very important. It affects the company’s work, the level of customer service, and how solutions are delivered to the target market. So every entrepreneur faces a choice: buy vs. build software. And he or she understands that approaches differ in functionality, productivity, and usability. To find the answer, first try to understand what the business requires from software, web, or mobile applications, and then determine which is best suited: customized software or off-the-shelf solutions.

Our article will uncover the customizable software pros and cons, as well as ready-made software benefits and drawbacks to help you pick the right technology group.

Key Difference Between Off-the-Shelf and Custom Software

To understand how these two differ, let's first consider their essences.

Off-the-shelf software is a package solution you can use immediately. Such tools are created for a wide audience and for many business areas. They are based on best practices that have been proven effective by multiple users. However, off-the-shelf apps do not always fulfill all the demands of a specific task or area.

Well-known examples here are solutions from Google or Microsoft, or familiar-to-many CRM systems from Salesforce, HubSpot, Oracle, or Zoho.

Сonversely, сustom software demonstrates the most personalized approach, as tailored apps can specifically consider business demands. To get it, the entrepreneur should assemble or hire a dedicated team that will develop an application for specific requirements.

Here is a small list of characteristics inherent in the two types.

Off-the-Shelf Software Benefits

Both types have their advantages. Let's dive into the benefits of off-the-shelf software first.

Quick installation and using

If you expect a quick start, then such products are just for this. However, they are often difficult to integrate with existing systems, which negates the speed benefit.


Ready-made apps are more affordable than custom software. The final tool development costs are spread across many end consumers.

Community support

Because it is widespread software, you can find out the experiences and reviews from other users before purchasing. In addition, guides are attached to these solutions, and therefore understanding the application intricacies will not be difficult.

Off-the-Shelf Software Cons

Now let's see what the downside is to the off-the-shelf software advantages.

May not meet all of the requirements

You may suddenly find that the app you have chosen is not suitable for the business, especially during a period of fast development. And while it may be cheaper than a custom solution, if it is half as functional or effective, you will soon lose all the money you initially saved.

Modification is impossible or expensive

You may need enhancements to your standard application when you decide to expand your business and add new activities. You may face the inability to do so, or the vendor requires a lot of money for it.

Compatibility problems may arise

It is highly possible that the business's operating systems or tools will interfere with the batch solution, making it unusable or completely ineffective.

May include hidden costs or unnecessary investments

Hidden costs can arise from paying for unnecessary additional features, fees for extensions and modules, and surcharges for licenses or additional users as your company grows.

Available to your competitors

It is always good when you have a unique factor that sets you apart from competitors. Packaged products do not provide this option.

Reasons to Choose Custom Software

Of course, each expert forms the pros and cons of the desired software, but there are a few general points that apply to most industries. Since we have already clarified the situation with off-the-shelf applications, let's take a look at the usefulness and pros of creating customized software.

Fully meets your needs

Because it is built specifically for your unique specs, it provides an excellent solution to your problem when you are deciding which functions to integrate.

Easy to scale and upgrade

With custom applications, you can regularly request additional updates to maintain maximum functionality even with new requirements.

Works excellently with existing systems

Good custom products integrate into the working system without breaking core procedures.

Has great support

Custom vendors often provide lifelong support and service with a more bespoke approach.

Provides ownership

You do not have to pay the additional licensing fees typical of ready-made applications.

Presents a competitive advantage

It keeps you ahead of the competition since competitors will not have exactly the same functionality and productivity.

Custom Software Disadvantages

After such a list of merits, the choice seems obvious. But in fairness, let's look at other points that can be negative.

High initial costs

Building and deploying such applications requires more resources. But all the investments will pay off, given that they are perfect for you.

Takes time to create

Time is affected by the complexity and size of the application. Therefore, you may need from several weeks to many months.

No previous experience

When best practices are used in package applications, custom alternatives are unique. You have to test them to see if they are useful, so you can consider ordering an MVP first.

Comparison of Off-the-Shelf Vs. Custom-Built Software

So we see that the main difference between custom vs. ready-made software is that the first type adapts to the business, and the second requires business adaptation. Let's sum up all the differences according to certain points.

 Off-the-Shelf SoftwareCustom Software
FunctionalityFunctionality is hardly adapted to unique needs.Has a wide range of functions, since it can be adapted to almost any activity.
ImplementationYou have to deploy software that does not exactly get into your processes and can break important data or result in more costs.You can easily install apps without harm to processes or data loss. Modify any feature to match the growth and conquest of new markets.
Support and MaintenanceUsually, support centers work fine. But all subsequent updates are provided at an additional payment.Lifetime support and product updates are included.
SecuritySecurity is on the provider, so make sure they hold required documents.You have control and responsibility for security. Also, custom software is usually less frequently targeted by hackers.
TimeApp deployment and mastering takes several days, so you get a working solution very quickly.In order to start working with the final product it will take at least several months.
MoneyThe initial costs are low. But the total cost can be much higher due to monthly subscriptions and hidden expenses.The total cost of ownership can be quite affordable due to the relatively high start-up costs and low operating expenses.

Tips for Choosing a Perfect Software Solution for Your Business

To pick between ready-made software vs. custom software, you also need to consider a few aspects.

State your needs

Your objective should be completely clear to you. Determining your needs and purpose will save time and money. Start by identifying your current problems: using too many business tools, endless spreadsheets, fragmented sources of information, and so on.

Map your workflow

Think about your daily routine and make a list of all activities and information used. Then, link your company's issues to your workflow to see which aspects need to be corrected or alleviated with a new software tool.

Be attentive to further requirements

After analyzing the problems and workflow, think about additional requirements from customization to design and UI.

Link your objective and requirements to your budget

Set a budget that you are willing to spend. Consider how much your company will benefit from solving problems at the expense of these costs. Then find a ready-made solution or team to develop a custom product that suits both your goals and budget.

Our Experience

Gearheart has extensive experience in developing custom products for various businesses. Let’s take a look at some of the solutions developed and successfully implemented by our specialists.

Olivia. Olivia is an internal project management system developed for the US boutique broker dealer firm. It provides brokers with a platform to perform financial operations in the expanding market of private securities where investors and entrepreneurs find each other to reach investment deals.

ShootQ. ShootQ is a photography management CRM software. The application is designed to solve real-life problems and allows for accounting clients, scheduling photo shoots, tracking tasks, advertising studio services, and creating email marketing templates.

Transpose. Transpose is a project management software that allows customers without any special training to build databases, add records, manipulate data, visualize, and analyze their business progress.


In the end, whether you choose custom or off-the-shelf software, remember that you should try to best meet your business needs. For simple common questions, start with ready-made software and customize it as needed. But if you want to work much more efficiently and stay ahead of the competition, consider creating a custom tool.

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