off the shelf vs bespoke software

Off-the-Shelf vs Bespoke Software Solutions

Last updated on 27th Sept 2019

Companies often face the decision to either build a bespoke software solution or purchase an off-the-shelf software package.

The answer lies in establishing a complete picture of what your business requires from the software as well as the total cost of ownership. Here are some points to consider when deciding between an off-the-shelf and bespoke software solution.

3 core differences between off-the-shelf and bespoke software.

  • Functionality

    Off-the-shelf software is made to provide a generic solution for a wide range of consumers. Due to this, off-the-self software does not cater to all of the requirements of every consumer and there is often a need to alter internal business processes when implementing off-the-shelf-software.

    Conversely, bespoke software is written to suit the needs of the business meaning that no business processes need to be altered. This also means that users can familiarise themselves with the software in a much shorter space of time, the software can be modified to suit any changes within the business and you can also fine tune the software for better performance.

  • Updates

    Each time there is a major revision to an off-the-shelf software product, consumers incur a cost. Moreover, a major revision may introduce significant changes that require the consumer to alter internal business processes. On the other hand, an off-the-shelf software product may not receive any updates for a long period of time leaving consumers with bugs in the software that cost time and money or even worse being rendered obsolete.

    With bespoke software, updates and functional changes are dictated by the consumer business.

  • Price

    Off-the-shelf software almost always has a smaller up-front financial cost. However, off - the - self software also has other long-term costs that we have covered above such as no guarantee of bugs being fixed and the possibility of software being rendered obsolete.

Off-the-shelf software: The Pros

  • Off-the-shelf software almost always has a lower upfront cost.
  • Off-the-shelf software has a quicker implementation time

Off-the-shelf software: The Cons

  • Off-the-shelf software tends to be a compromise; while it has a lower upfront cost, consumers do not get all of the functionality and flexibility that they require.
  • Off the shelf software often faces compatibility issues. It’s possible that your businesses’ operating systems or other business software will clash with an-off-the-shelf solution, making it either incredibly inefficient or at worst unusable.
  • Your competitors can purchase the same software making it difficult to gain any competitive advantage.

Bespoke software: The Pros

  • Bespoke software is unique to your business, written to suit your specific requirements and tailored to your budget.
  • Bespoke software can evolve to fit the needs of your business as your business needs grow or change.
  • Bespoke software is easier to use because it works the way you want it to.
  • Bespoke software can (and should) automate repetitive tasks therefore increasing productivity.
  • Bespoke software sets you apart from your competition; if professionally developed it will give your business a significant advantage over the competition.

Bespoke software: The Cons

  • Without the source code to your bespoke software you are almost certainly doomed. You are dependent on the company or developer that created the software and cannot make changes independently of the solution provider.
  • Should your bespoke software not be developed to a professional standard you risk software that is unstable and full of bugs.


The decision between a bespoke software solution and an off-the-shelf solution is one that can have far reaching consequences that will be experienced for years to come. It’s essential that you make the decision with this in mind. Short term pain will often lead to long term gain, while the unenviable opposite can also be true.

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