Why choose Off-the-shelf Software over Custom Software?

business custom software

For those who don’t know, my name is Casey Li, and I run a business that provides Custom Software services. So it might be a bit strange to see an article from us that talks about why you should NOT choose Custom Software.

However, the reality is that a lot of times when we talk to new customers, we recommend that they go with a solution that we cannot provide. We believe that if we try to sell everyone on Custom Software - even to the ones that it doesn’t make sense for - then not only will they suffer, but we will too. They will end up spending too much money and time and end up with something that they are not happy with. Meanwhile, our team will consistently fail to meet expectations and sour the relationship.

With that, I’m writing an article on why it’s best to consider one of the alternatives: Off-the-shelf Software.

What is Off-the-shelf Software?

There are other names for the type of software that we are calling “Off-the-shelf Software”. Some people call this “Commercial Off the shelf software” and we’ve referred to it as “Mass Market software” in previous articles. What it boils down to is software that is already made and available to use for the public.

Nowadays, most of the time, this takes place in the form of something you can easily buy online and either download to use, or simply use through a browser like a website.

Examples of Off-the-shelf Software cover a wide range of uses. They include Microsoft Office, GMail, Quickbooks, Spotify, Adobe Creative Suite, and more.

Generally speaking, if you can go online and purchase it (or use it for free), you’re most likely dealing with Off-the-shelf or Off the shelf software.

What is Custom Software?

Custom Software, on the other hand, is software that doesn’t exist yet. It’s software that you pay someone or some organization to build specifically for you to solve your problem.

What can Off-the-shelf Software do for your business?

Why are we even talking about this in the first place? Usually when you’re considering your options like Off-the-shelf Software or Custom Software, you’re usually looking to solve a problem. Very commonly, you run a business and you’re looking for some tools to help your business.

You might be looking for some software to manage your accounting - something that can keep track of your expenses, invoices, and time tracking. You might be looking for something to manage your staff’s schedules. Or maybe you’re looking for software to run email marketing campaigns.

Either way, most of the time you’re looking for something to augment your business and the reality is, if you have a problem to solve, there is a very high likelihood that someone has built software to solve it.

Why choose Off-the-shelf Software over Custom Software?

Ok, so now that you know what Off-the-shelf Software is and what it can do for your business, what are some of the reasons you would choose it over Custom Software?

Timing

One of the best things about Off-the-shelf software is that it’s available right away. If you need to solve your problem today, or just want to try out the solution, you can start implementing your solution today. In fact, most web applications today can be set up within minutes.

For example, you need an invoicing system, you could easily sign up for an account on Waves (https://www.waveapps.com/) or Freshbooks (https://www.freshbooks.com/). Within minutes you’ll have access to a very powerful invoicing tool.

If your problem is urgent, or time sensitive, or you realize the importance of moving fast on a solution - then off-the-shelf software is probably right for you.

Price

Companies that build off-the-shelf software typically rely on economies of scale and not relying on a one-to-one relationship between the hours spent building it and the money they are charging for it. As a result, most of these companies are able to charge a very reasonable price for a very powerful piece of software.

For example, let’s take Figma (https://www.figma.com/) as an example. Figma is a very powerful tool that lets designers create wireframes and user interfaces. Figma starts at $0.00/month and only goes as high as $45.00/month. For what you get and for what you can produce, this is quite cheap.

What’s more, is that a lot of these services and platforms price their software per user or per usage. What that boils down to is, the more successful you are, the more we’ll charge you, but that also means, if you’re small today, we’ll charge you less.

So not only is paying to use off-the-shelf software generally cheaper than building your own custom solution, it’s also generally cheaper to try out.

In some cases, the costs savings can be quite substantial.

Feature Set

This kind of goes hand in hand with Timing and Price. While Custom Software can get you all the features you could ever want, Custom Software is built from the ground up which means it can take a lot of time and money to get those features built, up and running, and ultimately to a state where they are operating well.

On top of those exciting new features that you want built that Off-the-shelf software doesn’t offer, even basic functionality that you’ve come to expect can take some time to get in there. For example, a sign up and sign in screen, a forgot password screen - all the things you take for granted in software you use has to be built up.

Off-the-shelf software has typically been around way longer than a custom solution and is built by a bigger team. With that, they are usually much richer in functionality at the start. As soon as you sign-up, you’ll probably have access to hundreds of features whereas with Custom software, these features are slowly built over time.

Quality

This argument can be made for either Custom Software or for Off-the-shelf Software. However, all things being equal, Off-the-shelf Software being typically built by bigger teams and tested by more people can lead to higher quality software. Some off-the-shelf software is built by the best software teams in the world and as such you might get access to some of the best software in the world.

Some other things to consider So we’re really starting to make the case for Off-the-shelf software. However, if you’re still not convinced, here are two more things to consider.

One, as we have written about before, if you’re trying to decide between the two, it’s usually a good idea to try out Off-the-shelf software first. It’s usually quite cheap and a lot of the offerings have a free trial.

Two, you should consider that it’s not necessarily all or nothing. There are a LOT of Off-the-shelf software solutions that offer integrations, APIs, and more to allow for a large amount of customization. For example, Wordpress can be considered Off-the-shelf software, but it offers a lot of customization options that allow the best of both worlds.

The right solution for the right problem So, yes, Off-the-shelf software has a lot going for it and like I said, we recommend it a lot. In fact, we use a lot of off-the-shelf software to run our business. However, it’s not always clear cut. What it comes down to is there is a place and time for each and it’s about determining whether or not your problem merits one or the other.

Even though I think most people would have considered the Off-the-shelf software option already, we thought we’d shed some light on the reasons you should choose it.

Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Casey Li
CEO & Founder, BiteSite