Custom vs. Premade Software: The Better Choice in 2021

July 20, 2021
Emilie Mitchell

Picture yourself at a car dealership. All around you, there's different types of cars to choose from. You're looking around at all the options, from base models to luxury. How do you decide which one to buy? Chances are, you probably don't make this type of purchase on impulse. You must first consider your needs. Sure, the 2 seat convertible might catch your eye, but is that the right decision for your family of four? How about the pre-owned sedan? It's much cheaper than the rest, but how long will it last? You ask yourself, which vehicle will be the best investment for the long-run?

Purchasing a car is similar to purchasing software; there are different types to match your specific needs and desires as a buyer.

When it comes to software, one main decision you have to make is between custom and off-the-shelf products. You build custom software, but buy off-the-shelf software. While off-the-shelf software forces your business to adapt to the software’s capabilities, custom software is adapted to meet the needs of your business.

In this blog, we'll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of off-the-shelf and custom software, as well as which may be the better choice for your business.

What is off-the-shelf software?

Off-the-shelf software refers to software that is pre-designed to fit a wide variety of customers. This type of software requires your business to adapt to the software’s capabilities.


Quick installation and use

Since off-the-shelf software is made readily available, it's ready to use right from the beginning. All you have to do is decide on a provider and select a plan that aligns closest with your business needs.

Lower up-front cost

Off-the-shelf software is designed for a wider audience, which means providers can distribute the price of this product amongst several licenses rather than one. Because it's mass-produced, it's also available at a lower price.

Good community support

If you run into a problem with your generic off-the-shelf-software, you should have no problem finding a solution. Since this software is so widespread, there's a great chance that other users have already encountered and resolved any potential issues.

Fewer risks

With packaged software, you should be able to access reviews and forums about your product before purchasing. Many off-the-shelf software options also include free trials so you can try out the product for a limited time before you buy it.


May not meet your business needs

Since off-the-shelf software is designed to fit a wide variety of customers, there's a good chance that it won't fully check-off your business's needs. On the other hand, packaged software may also include features that your business doesn't need, making the product more complex and confusing than necessary.

Fees and ongoing costs

Off-the-shelf software has a lower initial cost than custom software; however, off-the-shelf software involves other hidden costs that you may not initially think of such as licensing, subscription fees, ongoing support, and maintenance.

Customization and integration unattainable

Most off-the-shelf software is unable to be customized or modified. As your business evolves, your generic software may have a difficult time keeping up. If you are able to find a provider that allows modifications or integration requests, this also comes with a ticket price that may defeat the low cost advantage of off-the-shelf software.

Lacks competitive advantage

Just as it's made easily available to you, it's made easily available to all of your company's competitors. Because of this, off-the-shelf software makes it difficult for your business to stand out amongst your competitors.

What is custom software?

Also known as bespoke or tailor-made software, custom software refers to software that is designed to meet the expectations of your business specifically. Unlike off-the-shelf software, custom software is adapted to meet the needs of your company.


Meets your exact business needs

Since custom software is tailor-made, it's bound to meet all of your business's requirements. When done right, custom software provides the perfect solution to the problem your business is facing.

Easily modified and expanded

As your company continues to evolve over the years, so will your custom software. Custom software can be modified and expanded with ease, making it a great fit to your growing business.

Reduces product complexity

With custom software, you get to include all the features you want and discard all the ones you don't want. Eliminating unnecessary features from your product creates a better experience for your end users.

Complete ownership

In regards to custom software, you're the owner of your digital solution. This means there's no hidden fees or costs down the road in order to keep your product.

Competitive advantage

When your digital solution is custom, your competitors can't easily replicate what you have. When done well, custom software puts you ahead of your competitors as it's specifically designed to help your company excel.


High up-front investment

Unlike off-the-shelf software, custom software doesn't have other customers to split the price with. Because of this, custom software requires a higher up-front investment, but don't let this scare you. Custom software's up-front investment leads to a better return on investment (ROI) and enables more long-term growth.

Takes time

Since custom software is designed specifically for your business, the development of this can take some time. The expected timeline of custom software depends on your project's size, complexity, design, integration, and migration.

Making the right decision

Choosing the best fit software for your business is a big decision. So, what's the better choice? This decision ultimately depends on your business's specific needs.

While off-the-shelf software has a quick turn-around and lower initial cost, custom software is a great way to stay ahead of the competition while considering the unique goals of your business. 

Building custom software takes a team. When you work with a software development agency, you get to work with a team of experts in diverse fields. Software development teams can be remote, in one location, or both.

Whichever decision you make for your business, we want to help you make a good one.

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