Pros and cons of off-the-shelf software

It doesn’t take a genius to tell you that cost plays an imperative role in any business decision. Making it difficult to decide whether to purchase off-the-shelf software or custom, bespoke software. Sometimes the more general, relaxed approach will fit the bill, but a specialized and unique business will often need tailor-made features to make it work.

A recruitment agency, delivery company and PR business will all need different structures and processes incorporated and considered when looking at software options. Each of these companies will be fundamentally different meaning that the “One-size-fits-all” approach that off-the-shelf provides may not always work.

Here are some of the most important things to consider when making a decision about the software your business will use.


Many off-the-shelf solutions will include a plethora of training videos and sometimes companies may specialize in providing training for popular software. However, this training won’t necessarily be specific for your industry or organization and will be once again aimed at a general audience in a one-size-fits-all approach


One advantage of off-the-shelf software is that there will likely already be an existing userbase who are well versed in how to use it. This could be helpful if you come across any problems along the way there may already be existing solutions or people who have had similar problems before in a user-based community.

Development influence

A popular off-the-shelf solution will have a wide and varied userbase. As a result, it may become apparent that your individual needs will take a backseat. When the developer of this software has so many people to cater too all requesting different addons and changes it is hard to make everyone happy. For some this may be a benefit, with the stress of providing feedback to an active and dedicated developer removed. However, it will also have its drawbacks as there will be much less influence over the direction of development should you need there to be.


Clearly, the development cost of off-the-shelf packages can be recovered over a large number of customers making the cost extremely competitive. However, using a general software solution means you can’t have technology designed around your processes and you’ll need to conform to whatever process the subscription-based software provides you.

Furthermore, in the long term it may well be that investing in a more expensive but bespoke solution is better value and ultimately sometimes even cheaper, especially when considering that individual licenses from off-the-shelf solutions are often how you will be billed.

Fitness for purpose

Generic applications can be extremely sophisticated. Because they are developed for a wide audience and have considerable investment going into their development. They are likely to be designed to fit as broad a range of applications as possible, but this can lead to cumbersome features you neither need nor want. Furthermore, some features that you do need are sometimes locked behind paywalls and disguised as a “bolt-on” that will eventually build up and cost more.

Software updates and upgrades

Updates for off-the-shelf software normally happen regularly and try to keep up with technological advancements, adding new features and benefits. This is good for keeping up with the advancements of the world. However, unexpected upgrades can cause disruption if legacy data is no longer available to be used with the new version or perhaps support will be discontinued for your version of software over time.


Since you are paying for use of someone else’s software, you will never be the sole owner of your system. One part we overlooked in the “Price” section is that the software you pay for becomes, in itself, an asset for your business. Should you want to sell on your business in the future or want investors to take you seriously, it’s much more appealing and attractive to say you have your own custom-made software.


When searching for an off-the-shelf solution, the chances are you’ll find a free trial version to try before you buy. Also, it’s worth remembering that trials are by their very nature designed to make the product look as compelling as possible, in order to trigger a desire to purchase. In a worst case scenario, an impulsive purchase can end up being a one-trick pony that doesn’t have the resources to support the business in the long term.