Off-the-shelf software vs bespoke software

Off-the-shelf software vs bespoke software

Natalia Figas
March 15, 2021  | 5 min read

The choice of software, off-the-shelf or bespoke, is crucial for your company’s effectiveness and business performance.

In this article, you will discover all the pros and cons of the two types of software, so you can make the right choice.

Let's begin.


What is off-the-shelf software?

Ready-made software is a digital product that you buy from a provider.

It has functions and features that make it easy to create or manage resources important to your business.

For instance: generating documents, encrypting files, accounting, etc.

Examples of out-of-the-box software are

  • Adobe Photoshop,
  • SAP
  • or ESET Antivirus.

Such solutions may include programs in the field of ERP, CRM, POS, invoicing, project management etc.


What is the difference between off-the-shelf and bespoke software?

Bespoke software is created from scratch (initial idea) for your company by a software development company.

It is a fully customisable solution produced on demand.

These two types of solutions are often presented as opposing.

And that is for a good reason.

The effectiveness of your company's business largely depends on making a smart choice.

In order to do it, discover the main differences.


Adaptability to your business needs

Off-the-shelf software

Commercial software tackles most of your average business problems.

However, these solutions are designed for a large audience. This means that the off-the-shelf product will have very little or no ability to adapt the product to your company's needs.

Bespoke software

The software solves all your company's problems because it is tailored to your needs. Over time, you can modify and develop your software almost as you wish.

Moreover, you know how the software was created because you had an influence on it every step of the way.


Increase in efficiency

Off-the-shelf software

With off-the-shelf software, you will notice a slight improvement in efficiency. Unfortunately, program's features often cause unexpected problems, which means time wasted on solving them.

Tailored software

Tailor-made software will fit perfectly into the processes and operations carried out in your company.


Because when creating software, we take into consideration the context in which you will use the program.


Before releasing new functionalities, we conduct detailed research to prepare the best option for you and your employees.

In one of our clients’ office, our researchers noticed that the client's employees were using off-the-shelf software with small font and bright colours. As a result, some employees complained about headaches and eye aches. They were also ineffective.

When the same employees started using bespoke software with neutral colours and well-thought UX, the headaches and eye problems passed, and efficiency grew.


Read the whole story here:

3 money-saving lessons we learned from research




Commercial off-the-shelf software offers generic functionalities for the entire group of business users.

Thanks to this, you can solve many common problems - usually repetitive for other companies like yours.

Bespoke software

Funcionalities reflect your company’s needs 1:1.

The contractor can design the software so that you can easily integrate it with other tools, e.g., payments, hardware that you use in your company, or platforms used by your contractors.


Total cost of ownership (TCO)

Out-of-the-box software

The price of off-the-shelf software is relatively low. In many cases, however, you will incur monthly, quarterly, or yearly license costs.

Increasing the user base will also reflect in higher costs.

The low price has its justification. The canned software producer is motivated by earnings. The more companies decide to buy his product, the greater his profits will be.

Custom software

The initial price is much higher than in the case of off-the-shelf software due to the time and effort put into the development (or tailoring) process.

But along the way, your company will be more efficient and competitive on the market, and your investment will be returned.

Increasing the user base will not change the cost in any way (however, when designing, you need to think about scaling the base).



Packaged software

In many cases, online and in-house courses are available for popular commercial software.

Moreover, problems can often be solved with a helpdesk or by searching the internet for a solution.

Bespoke software

The software house, which produces the software for you, provides you with the necessary training and is always available to help you when you encounter a problem. Contracts are designed to make you feel safe.


Intelectual property and monetisation rights

Off-the-shelf software

Under the terms of the license, you use the functionality of the software. When you stop paying for the license, you (in most cases) lose access to your resources.

Custom-built software

The software is your property. You can use it in an unlimited way. You can even create a revenue source for the company by selling the software to other companies or private users.


Extensions and changes

Canned software

Manufacturers manage software development themselves. Your impact on the changes is small - you can send feedback by e-mail, but there is no guarantee that your request will be implemented with the software update.

Functional extensions need to be paid for.

Bespoke software

Changes to the software are possible at every stage of its development. Depending on the contract you sign, they will be paid additionally or not.


Security and data storage

Off-the-shelf software

The producer should ensure the best possible security of the program, but the final decisions about protection are on his side. Canned software should also ensure full compliance with legal regulations (e.g., GDPR).

Cybercriminals often exploit vulnerabilities in out-of-the-box software. They are attracted by the large user base and the ability to hack resources, sensitive data etc.

Bespoke software

You make all the decisions about security. We advise you at every stage and care for high standards, as well as help ensure full compliance with legal regulations.

Cybercriminals rarely attack custom software due to the low potential to get money on them.



Off-the-shelf software

The implementation time is short. Data entry, training or integration with other providers (if needed) takes only a few days.

This is a great convenience for businesses that operate under time pressure.

Bespoke software

The production and implementation time is relatively long. However, you usually receive your MVP within three months of the start of the interviews.


User Experience (UX)

Off-the-shelf software

The manufacturer adjusts functionalities to a large group of users, which is why UX is at an average level. Often you learn about functionalities over time as you get to know the software better.

Bespoke software

UX is perfectly tailored to your software users, which makes it intuitive and very easy to learn.


Proprietary software versus off-the-shelf software. The most important differences

The most important differences between the two types of software are

  • costs,
  • implementation time
  • and increase in business performance.

As we said, the initial financial and time costs of implementing a boxed solution in your company seem to be in its favour. The prices are affordable, and the implementation time is relatively short.

However, considering the wider time perspective, the costs and time of bespoke software implementation pay off after a while.

You can treat software development itself as an investment.

Off-the-shelf software vs bespoke software

Who can benefit from an off-the-shelf software?

Small, growing companies often choose canned solutions. It is an excellent choice, bearing in mind the small needs of such companies.

In many cases, investment in ready-to-use software will be a clever move.

For example, when you need office software, it is worth using Google Suite or Microsoft Office Suite, because these brands have developed their solutions for many years and respond to many small businesses’ needs.

So, when is it worth creating your own software?


Why would a business use bespoke software?

It is worth considering bespoke software development when:

    • no software available on the market can adapt to the needs of your business
    • you have an innovative business idea that you want to monetise
    • you need to solve unusual problems
    • you don't want to make your company's resources dependent on external suppliers

Tailored software gives great opportunities to create your own functionalities, improve the flow of information or collect and process data. And this consequently affects positively on improving the efficiency of the company.

Moreover, your company uses a unique program. With proprietary software, you can create a business advantage over your competitors.

off-the-shelf software and bespoke software comparison


Out-of-the-box software is good when your company has small needs and wants to quickly and at a low initial cost improve its performance.

Customised solutions are most often used by:

  • medium and large companies
  • or companies introducing innovations.

By increasing the quality of their work with tailor-made software, they significantly increase their efficiency and competitiveness on the market.


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