Off-the-Shelf Software - Advantages and Disadvantages

Should you buy software or build it specifically to fit your business needs? If you run a business, you’ll grapple with the above question at some point during the life of your business. Because of how integral software has become to business success in the digital age, you’ll have to make a decision soon.

This article examines the advantages and disadvantages of off-the-shelf software to help you decide whether to buy it or not.

Off-The-Shelf Software vs. Bespoke Software

Off-the-shelf software (also called commercial software) is any software application developed with the mass market in mind.

These kinds of software products offer a one-size-fits-all software solution intended to make the lives of as many customers as possible easier. To that end, the software provides a broad set of tools.

In contrast, bespoke software is a software solution tailor-made for a specific customer (i.e., a business enterprise). As such, the bespoke software solution isn’t as feature-packed as off-the-shelf software. After all, bespoke software solves the problems specific to one customer.

Examples of Off-The-Shelf Software

The following are well-known examples of off-the-shelf software solutions:

  • Electronic Mail: Enables messages to be sent over an internet connection. Examples of these kinds of software include Gmail (Google), Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail (Microsoft).
  • Anti-Virus Software: These types of software applications have been developed to protect computer systems from malicious software programs. Examples include Norton and Kaspersky.
  • Customer Relationship Management: As the name suggests, CRM software like Salesforce and Hubspot are used by businesses to manage relationships with their customers.
  • Graphic Design: These software applications help users create graphics, manipulate images, and touch-up photos, among other functions. Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Canva, and Figma are well-known examples of the software.
  • Communication: Software like WhatsApp, Slack, and Microsoft Teams enable communication in real-time between people in different parts of the globe.
  • Task Management: ClickUp and Trello are two examples of task management software used by (usually remote) teams to track tasks.

Advantages of Off-The-Shelf Software

Now that we know what off-the-shelf software is, and have become acquainted with some examples, let’s learn what advantages this type of software provides.

It’s the Budget-Friendly Option (Short Term)

Commercial software tends to be less costly to purchase in the short term, mainly because the software is aimed at mass-market appeal. Most developers of off-the-shelf software applications offer tiered subscription packages, with users who subscribe to higher tiers getting access to more features and functionality.

Using the above business model makes the product accessible to as many customers as possible while allowing the developers to recoup the development cost and make a profit. Hence, the developers can charge less for the software than a bespoke option.

Feature-Packed

As mentioned above, off-the-shelf software is created to appeal to as many customers as possible. Therefore, these software solutions are packed with features that address the needs of a general audience.

So, if you purchase software that solves multiple problems, you’ll have an all-in-one product that can meet your every need as and when they arise. Moreover, frequent updates (more below) mean you’ll get more features as they’re implemented. In contrast, you’ll have to pay for additional features to be included in bespoke software.

Free Trials

Another advantage off-the-shelf software offers is the “try before you buy” option. The software development companies behind such products offer free trials as a marketing tactic. During the trial period (7, 14, and 30-day trials are common), customers can test-drive the software and decide on its utility before making a financial commitment.

Product Reviews Readily Available

In addition to free trials, you have user reviews to guide your purchasing decision when considering an off-the-shelf software solution.

Since the product is available to the mass market, there’s a high likelihood that other users would’ve purchased the product before you. These customers will have opinions and feedback about the product, which may offer insight into the product’s utility.

Excellent Support

Because commercial software is meant for a general audience, multiple users may face the same issues when using the product. In other words, it’ll be rare to face problems with software that are unique to you.

Therefore, you’ll find an abundance of excellent resources, such as an FAQ post on the developer’s website or support forums, to help you use the product. Additionally, you can rest assured that the developer is aware of any problems you might face since their support personnel participate in forums to shape customer perception of their product.

Frequently Updated

Bugs (errors) are an inevitable part of the software development process, and initial releases of software will have one or two. Additionally, software development companies take the user experience seriously and constantly make changes to the software’s user interface, implementing features based on customer feedback and the like.

For the above reasons, off-the-shelf software offers the advantage of frequent updates that’ll enrich your experience. Moreover, these updates don’t necessarily entail reinstalling the software, making it extremely convenient to bring your software in line with the latest version.

Quick Setup

Because the product has been developed, launched, and made available for purchase, there’s no waiting period. Instead, you can simply download your copy, install it, and begin solving the problem the software is intended to address.

Additionally, most off-the-shelf software comes with detailed instruction manuals, eliminating the need for employees to be trained on how to use the tech.

Disadvantages of Off-The-Shelf Software

There are downsides to buying off-the-shelf software. They include:

Costs More in the Long Run

Although commercial software may seem budget-friendly initially, it costs more in the long run. The higher cost is due to the subscription business model used by most software development companies to earn a recurring income.

Whereas with bespoke software, you pay for it once and use it forever, but you have to keep paying monthly to license off-the-shelf software. For example, over five years, you may find that the cost of licensing commercial software far outstrips the one-time cost of getting bespoke software made for your company.

Upgrades Drive Up the Cost

One of the advantages of commercial software mentioned above is that it gets the upgrade treatment on a continual basis.

However, there’s a dark side to the above advantage. If you’re paying for an inexpensive subscription package, the software developers can decide to release some upgrades on a more expensive tier than you’re willing to pay for. So, if the upgrade released is a feature your business can’t do without, you’ll have little choice but to spend more money.

Functionality Overload

Because commercial software tries to meet the needs of an array of customers, it usually comes packed with features. While some users may see this as a good thing, others may find it hard to justify spending the money on software that contains features they won’t need or use.

Another issue with having many features is that the software can seem daunting. For example, you may buy software to solve a particular problem quickly only to find it takes a considerable time to get to grips with all the shiny functionality and features.

Less Control

Since you didn’t pay to have the software developed, you have no say in the changes made by the software development company. For example, the software developers may decide to scrap a feature or functionality your business processes rely on, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Also, it’s possible that your company may not benefit from the updates made to the software. In such a scenario, you may be paying more for less. Meanwhile, you won’t have to deal with such unpredictability if you go the bespoke route.

Not Tailor-Made to Fit Your Business Needs

Commercial software is meant to be used by as many customers as possible, so individual needs are overlooked in favour of the masses.

Therefore, your business may have an incredibly specific need that off-the-shelf software programs may not meet. Instead of using one software program, you might have to resort to using several to get the job task done, which can be cumbersome.

Issue with Integration

Even though it’s made for a general audience, commercial software can’t do it all. So, it’s possible that your software may not integrate smoothly with the systems you have in place. For example, you may encounter issues with off-the-shelf software reading file types you commonly use in your day-to-day activities.

Off-The-Shelf Software – Is It Right for You?

Off-the-shelf software, an application developed for a mass market, has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, you get an affordable, feature-packed software solution that you can try before buying and is excellently supported.

However, this type of software isn’t the best option if you want to save on costs in the long run, need a solution that’s tailor-made for your business, or want a degree of control over what features the software may have.

Stavros Zavrakas

Since a very young age, Stavros has been passionate about the power of technology which pushed him to study Computer Science at the University of Crete. Throughout his career, he worked as a full-stack software engineer and lead developer and acted as a mentor tackling challenging IT problems of various industries - from healthcare to publishing.

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© 2022 Orthogonality Ltd // UK (Companies House) Company Number: 11115046

© 2022 Orthogonality Hellas Single Member Private Company // GR (GEMI) Company Number: 165193340000