Bespoke or off-the-shelf software: 4 factors to look at

Software developer

Small businesses do not have the luxury of an enormous workforce and the huge budgets that multinational corporations do.

This competitive disadvantage can, however, be overcome by leveraging the power of software. The software brings efficiency, speed, and scale to organizations for whom such capability would be, otherwise, out of reach.

Yet, the extent your business can enjoy these advantages is dependent on your making the right choice in your software selection. One of the biggest decisions in this regard is whether to opt for off-the-shelf applications from big players like Intuit (QuickBooks) or choose bespoke software from developers such as UK-based software house Evolve.

To ensure you make the right choice, you should take the following factors into consideration.


The packaged, off-the-shelf software industry is vast. They are built to satisfy a diverse range of needs. Nevertheless, it’s not possible to create software that meets every single possible business requirement there is out there. It just doesn’t make financial sense for software companies.

While an off-the-shelf application might do a lot of what you want, it might not have all the features you require. Bespoke software, on the other hand, is built to meet your specific needs. As your business evolves and grows, your software can be modified in tandem. You have a depth of customization that’s not realizable with off-the-shelf applications.


Off-the-shelf programs are designed for the mass market and developed by large software companies boasting huge teams of developers. They’ve gone through rigorous testing to ensure they can work across a wide range of environments. By the time the software is made available for purchase, it has attained a high degree of stability.

In addition, the huge pool of customers and users means bugs and errors are discovered quickly. Bespoke software can be built to work in multiple environments, but it’s unlikely to realize the degree of versatility that comes with off-the-shelf applications.

Help and Support

Off-the-shelf software is used by a large pool of customers. To cater to the help and support expectations of this enormous population of users, software companies will create elaborate infrastructure. There’ll be a 24/7 customer support team that’s just a phone call, email or social media inquiry away. An online knowledge base, including FAQs, will cover all of the most common issues users may run into. Some even have online communities where users can learn from each other’s experiences.

Bespoke software is built for your business alone, so you are heavily dependent on your own knowledge and that of the developer. You might not have access to an extensive knowledge base that answers your key questions. There’s certainly no online forum where you can learn from other users of the same application.


Off-the-shelf software usually follows the same logic as the FMCG industry. Software companies intend to make the product available to a large number of customers. The mass-market strategy allows them to leverage the economies of scale and offer an attractively low price per unit.

Bespoke software, on the other hand, costs more. The software company is creating something specific for your business that they cannot sell as-is to another customer. To recoup the money, time, personnel and other resources they dedicate to this singular objective, the pricing must be higher than equivalent off-the-shelf programs.

Neither bespoke nor off-the-shelf software will be the answer for every single small business. The suitability will depend on the unique circumstances each enterprise is in and the specific problem it seeks to solve with the software. You’ll certainly have to make some sacrifices. So, for instance, if bespoke is the most compelling solution for your need, you have to be ready to pay a premium. The good thing is that if it’s the right decision, you’ll quickly recoup the cost.