Why I Should and Shouldn’t Use Off-the-Shelf Software Products?

In this blog, I will share the advantages and limitations of off-the-shelf software compared to custom written software and the best way forward.

So let's jump right into it, shall we?

Why I Should and Shouldn’t Use Off-the-Shelf Software Products?

Companies around the world rely on different software solutions to make routine operations easier. Every software fulfills different goals, right? So when your company is looking for software to automate day-to-day tasks – there are two ways to go about it: first – buy an off-the-shelf software with a monthly subscription or second – outsource a company for customized software development. Deciding on what to choose can be very challenging but I am here to simplify the decision process for you. Just keep reading till the end. 

I can totally vouch that buying a software product is super confusing plus the entire process of scrutinizing, shortlisting, and making a final purchase is somewhat intimidating – not to mention the costs that follow. Raise your hand if you agree! 

But still, no matter how daunting the process is, you have to make sure that you buy and implement the right system because one wrong move can lead to unfavorable outcomes such as a negative impact on the performance and productivity – initially not anticipated. Therefore, making a well-thought-out decision is super salient.

So, the best way forward is to take your time, undergo a thorough software screening process, weigh the pros/ cons and then decide. Because understanding the good and bad of every solution can help you align your business needs with your goals. 

In this blog, I will share the advantages and limitations of off-the-shelf software compared to custom written software and the best way forward. But before anything else, let’s have a look at what the fuss is all about.


What is Off-the-Shelf Software Package?

off the shelf

It’s pretty self-explanatory – something that is not made to order, rather, you can buy it from the existing available items ready to use. Similarly, off the shelf software is designed to fulfill the needs of a broader market, readily available on purchase, and is usually for commercial use. Off the shelf is opposite to bespoke products that are customized and built from the ground up. It’s pretty straightforward!


Limitations of Off-the-Shelf Products

No customization

One of the biggest issues with off-the-shelf computer software solutions is that – it is built to cater to a larger audience and not you alone. It may have a lot of gaps and loopholes in the features or functionalities.

Even though off-the-shelf software features fulfill the basic needs but may not be suitable to track, execute or automate complex processes over time – simply put, it may not align with your business objectives.

It may not have all the features you need, even if there are customization options available – it will cost you extra, so what’s even the point. Having customization options is one of the most important aspects to make your purchase worthwhile.

customization option in off-the-shelf softwareOn the other hand, bespoke solutions not only complement your way of doing things but are also flexible – meaning you can add or remove features however and whenever you like. Something’s not working out for you, you can easily adjust it. 

Costs may increase over time 

Now this is one of the biggest disadvantages of commercial off-the-shelf software! Free trials sound good and so do the basic subscription packages to cater to the needs of smaller teams. But with time, team size grows and then you might need to change your subscription package to premium.

Because an increase in the number of users means additional costs to your initial annual expense budget. Whereas the custom software is concerned, you only have to pay once. You can even budget your lifetime costs – no surprises. 


Little to no control 

Since you have not built the solution yourself, you simply don’t own it – meaning you have no control over the changes, updates, or upgrades. You can not just raise your wand and expect it to happen. The vendors who are the real owners of the product can upgrade however they see fit and the updates may or may not suit you in the long run.

Maybe they remove the features that are most useful or valuable to you just to give you something extraneous to deal with. However, if it’s custom-built you can make untimely changes to the solution and no one would pay heed.

Off the shelf, solutions are inflexible products that are prone to become obsolete over time. I don’t know how it’s relevant but I used to love Twitter’s layout before it was refurbished and now I don’t even feel like using it because it does not appeal to me as it used to.  


Compatibility issues 

Okay let’s take the worst-case scenario – so your company works with windows 98 systems (I know it’s highly unlikely considering the advancements in technology but some workplaces still may use 98 windows or not— anyway) and recently you found a perfectly compatible software to manage your tasks but then Apple takes over, and the majority of workplaces are flooded with iMacs and Macbooks.

compatibility issuesThe vendor upgraded the system’s compatibility to match the trends — however, they forgot to consider your system compatibility needs. Now the software that you are trying to run on Windows 98 is glitching, crashing, and burning all the time — which is negatively impacting your team’s productivity. See? That’s what happens when you buy an off-the-shelf solution. In contrast, if you had customized software, you would still be delivering rewarding work on Windows 98. Get it? 

On the other hand, if you decide to finally transition from Windows 98 to Macbook Pro – chances are that customized software will allow you to scale 100%. 


Customer support 

Alright, so I am not an enemy of off-the-shelf software – I mean I love Trello and Asana and Slack and all the other amazing solutions available in the market. Some solutions provide excellent online support, some have configured chatbots for an exciting hello, some take 24 hrs to reply, some 5 business days, and others forever.

bad customer serviceWhat if you have a project due earlier than you thought, all the specifications are in the project management tool that you are using, but you can’t seem to access it — you know it has nothing to do with the internet but you have checked your wi-fi connection twice already but it’s still not loading or working out for you.

You furiously start typing your concern to  customer support, but all you get is an auto-responder saying, ‘Thank you for your query. Our customer support team will get back to you within 5 business days so hang in there’. Ouch! You did not see that coming, did you? But when you have your own software and in-house tactical, I mean technical support team, you need not worry about any unforeseen circumstances. 



Integrating different useful tools with your one main platform can come in handy. Let’s say you want to integrate Zoom video meetings to your internal chat communication software, which is bought off the shelf bdw. So you went to their website to check the list of integrations just to find out that they don’t offer the integration with the tool that you are eyeballing. Bam! All your hopes- flushed down the toilet.

Whereas on the plus side, you can integrate all sorts of tools into your bespoke tailor-made solutions without any question. Viola, problem solved. 


Not much competitive advantage

In order to surpass your competition, you need to have some kind of leverage or competitive edge in the market. But when all your competitors, including you, are using the same software – how are you planning to achieve it? It becomes challenging, I know. Now you know what I am going to say next, so let’s just skip ahead instead. But I would say this and only this —- value addition, and uniqueness to stand out from the crowd is all you need. 


Some Advantages of Using Off-the-Shelf Software

Initially not very costly

cost efficient solutionOne of the advantages of off-the-shelf software is that — it is usually more suitable for small-sized businesses since they offer a cost-effective option with all the basic features to get the job done. Also, they are pre-made solutions developed for large audience clusters, and hence the development costs are shared among multiple users who buy the product- so you pay much less than you would for custom software.

Speaking of which, custom bespoke software is tailor-made and built from scratch to fulfill the needs of a specific company therefore the cost is high – depending on the feature list, complexity, development time, ongoing maintenance engagement model, and level of expertise. 


Easier implementation

The implementation is much easier for pre-existing software – all you need to do is register yourself on the platform. If you are managing a team you can send your team members invite links via emails to sign up and join. For example, Trello is one of the off-the-shelf software examples — that allows users to track their productivity and task status.

It’s super easier to use too. Once the team lead has signed up and created a board on the platform to keep track of work progress, he simply needs to send out invites to his team members to join. No need for developers to install or configure the software. However, technical support services can always come in handy with any assistance.


Online reviews

As mentioned earlier, off-the-shelf solutions are developed for a mass market. Therefore, you will find many customer reviews either positive or negative to evaluate the product yourself. There are many forums, review sites, social media et al talking about the issues people might have had faced, and while other companies are already using the product, they can help you understand the product as well.

Additionally, not having errors or bugs in software is inevitable. Through reviews, you can familiarize yourself with the issues that companies often try to conceal to maintain their reputation. Last, but not the least, you can get insights into the reliability and authenticity of the product and whether you are getting the value for money or not. Period. 

Free trials 

The best part is – you get free trials to check the product, its features, and functionalities. No contract or deposits required. But the downside of free trials is that you only get to try the basic features and to use the premium features, you are obligated to opt for a subscription package.  

Maintenance and updates 

Off-the-shelf solutions come with automatic updates, all you have to do is install them when you get a notification. Just like how we update our Android or iOS applications.

The system gives us a shout out and all we have to do is click the ‘accept update’ button. Also, all the software maintenance and upgrades are handled from the backend, so it does not incur any additional costs for you. 


The Bottom Line

I have clearly mapped out all the possible pros and cons of implementing off-the-shelf solutions but at the end of the day, it all depends on your business needs and budget. Even though highly customized solutions can turn out to be costly initially, they are quite valuable in the long run.

So it is very crucial to understand the both positives and negatives of off-the-shelf and custom retail software for finding the right and fulfilling fit for your business. Make sure to list down all the factors influencing your buying decision.

However, if you are still not sure about your decisions, how about we help you? I mean, no, we don’t despise off-the-shelf tools, but our super cool team will definitely help you to develop a cost-effective and custom solution tailored to meet your business goals. 


About InvoZone

Based in Toronto Canada, InvoZone is your trusted software development outsourcing partner. With over 7 years of experience and counting – our expert team of developers has built more than 100 cutting-edge software solutions to help businesses grow and thrive in today’s highly competitive world. Not only this, our team is the epitome of innovation with a 100% project success rate. 

Get in touch with us today!