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Custom vs. Off-The-Shelf: What’s the best approach for your business?

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Brief summary: The main difference between the two software solutions is that custom software is developed specifically for a company's needs whereas off-the-shelf software requires your business to adapt to its capabilities. Off-the-shelf software is quickly available, however, not customizable.

One of the most common questions for the software companies is whether to build a customized software or get an off-the-shelf solution?

The answer lies in establishing a complete picture of what a business requires from the software, as well as the total cost and ownership associated with the options.

Choosing the right one for your organization can sometimes leave you confused. Knowing about the pros and cons of each option is essential but it is not enough.

In this blogpost, we try to explain which one is better for business growth and what you should consider when making this important decision.

Firstly, let’s have a look at the following image which summarizes all the main differences between an off-the-shelf and a custom software solution.

Now, when we understand all the pluses and minuses of each software solution, we can analyze them considering the following criteria:


Custom software is built to meet the challenges of a particular organization or an individual. It is designed specifically for the unique circumstances and when built well, provides a perfect solution to a particular problem. It is built to internalize your current processes so you don’t have to change them. It is simpler to modify the software in the future and make sure that a high level of performance is maintained.

On the other side, off-the-shelf software is designed for a wide range of consumers with a standard design and framework that is already developed. There are high chances that it might not fit your individual requirements and you have to adapt which requires you to be more careful while choosing one.


Since custom software is built for only one individual or company for their specific purpose, the company or individual should have an in-depth understanding of their needs and about how the end product will address those needs. Custom software solutions require extra time and effort. The installation and integration of the custom software is easy and smooth since the software is built in collaboration with people from the organization.

Packaged software solution has the advantage of being used by many users as it is readily available. Anyone can buy it, install it, and use it immediately. But, it requires your operations team to put in efforts in understanding the functionalities of the software.


Custom software is expensive upfront as this software is developed to solve specific needs which involves time and investment. Even if it’s more expensive, it is a long-term investment which makes you feel unique. Since it is designed for the already existing process, it saves time and overhead expenses in training the operations staff.

Off-the-shelf software has low upfront costs because the development cost is distributed across a wider audience. They are cheap to purchase initially but can cost you a lot more later due to their inefficiencies, any ongoing maintenance, or due to subscription fees. Another hidden expense of using off-the-shelf software is that your own operations staff will require formal training for using the software.


Custom software solutions can be easily modified and are open to expansion. You own the software and in order to keep up with the trending technology and different changes, sooner or later you will need to modify the software to keep pace with changing business needs. A custom solution provides the space and has that scope of accommodating modifications required when the need arises.

On the other hand, commercial software, once purchased, is difficult to be modified. You never know when your business grows and how much it would be required to modify the already purchased software. Because you have zero control over the changes and upgrades of this software solution, you have to limit yourself with the options available. In order to get the changes done in the software, you would need to convince the software company that your needs outweigh their product roadmap which is rather impossible.


In the case of custom software, you have an advantage of contacting your custom software solution provider to solve the queries or issues, if any occur. They are responsible for solving the problems you face using the custom solution which saves you time and energy, so you can focus on other tasks of your business.

Most of the ready-made software solutions come with on-going support, where the support is subject to some fee. This allows the users to get help when facing any trouble while operating the software. If the user base of the software is large, you might even find a helpful community online.


Custom software is built from scratch with endless customization possibilities. The development phase itself takes several months which might not be feasible in certain situations. However, the end product is developed according to your requirements which as already mentioned above saves time for training your staff.

The deployment time required for off-the-shelf software is almost zero as the user has to only install the software and it is ready to use. Using off-the-shelf solutions might be unsatisfactory due to standard features that in many cases are not needed. Also, implementation and customization of software that was not built for your specific needs can take surprisingly more time. Off-the-shelf software is mostly structured as a monthly subscription package which may end up costing more than a custom solution.


The custom software offers a competitive advantage over your competitors. It is completely unique to you and your business— 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 come some benefits like superior security or user experience which may be the driving force for others to do business with you.

Opting for off-the-shelf software on the contrary means that you are choosing a solution that is available to everyone, so also to your rivals which may cause your innovative ideas to be easily copied by your competitors.


It feels great when all of your devices, applications and other existing technology you use work seamlessly together. With custom software, it's much easier to introduce compatibility with your existing tools. It fits in easily with your current business operations as it is built according to the requirements of the organization.

While some off-the-shelf software solutions may have integrations, they might not work as smoothly as you would like. Off-the-shelf software is usually overloaded with features that your company might never use. Eventually, too many functionalities can slow down your system which creates more problems and it is definitely not improving efficiency.


A custom solution, ideally a scalable and well-architected one, doesn’t keep you dependent on software providers. But if the need arises you can hire a dedicated team of developers to build that particular feature. These software teams prove to be incredible – providing maximum benefits as they truly understand your business. Therefore, you should know how to choose your software provider wisely.

Off-the-shelf software is designed to be installed in minimum time and can be used immediately after installation. This software solution might need to be customized as it is most probably not compatible with your current systems, which slows you down. If you need to add some features, hiring a developer is required, which costs you both time and money.


If security is a high priority for your organization, then choosing custom software development is the best option for you. It is only used by your team, customers, and any other users you choose to give access to which minimizes the risk of intrusions, data breaches, and other unwanted threats. Its unique structure and composition is helping provide you with the resilient security you deserve.

Commercial software solutions are well known and widely available which is the main ingredient in attack. Hackers are already aware of the vulnerabilities of popular commercial softwares, so it's becoming easier for them to get hold of its weak spots.


The software industry is overloaded with tons of software products that are being developed on a daily basis. When deciding between off-the-shelf and custom software, consider all of its possible factors. Each type of business automation has benefits and drawbacks. It all varies depending on your specific wants and tastes.

Many businesses and/or individuals nowadays prefer custom solutions due to its flexibility, customization, and full ownership. It satisfies all the requirements of your organization and makes you stand out against your competitors.


Are you already looking for custom software development services or maybe still not sure about which path to take?

Hristov Development comes to the rescue. We will discuss your custom software project according to your business needs. From consultation on solutions to be developed to finalizing the end product, our team of specialized professionals can address all your requirements.

Don’t hesitate to contact us.

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