Off-the-Shelf vs. Custom Software: What Wholesalers Need to Know

Monica Orrigo
December 3, 2014

If you’re a wholesale company looking for an order management tool or any other type of productivity software, you may be considering off-the-shelf vs. custom software. You may even already be thinking about the prospect of having someone custom-build that software, whether by hiring a developer to build it internally, or by outsourcing the job. This can seem like a viable option, as companies expect to have more control over what the end product will look like. After hearing about the experiences of many wholesale businesses who’ve tried the custom-built route for order management software, however, a strong case emerges in favor of a dedicated software vendor. While your decision will ultimately be based on your own company’s resources, capabilities, and priorities, here are some reasons why a dedicated vendor may be the best option for you.

Off the Shelf vs. Custom Software: The Downsides to the Custom-Built Option

1. You’re not a software company.

Software development is rarely a core competency for brands selling wholesale. Focus is so important to ensuring nothing distracts your team from your core mission. Practically speaking, if you’re thinking about hiring an internal team to do the job, do you know what kind of people you should be looking to bring in? Do you know how to evaluate them in the hiring process? How will you assess the quality of the code being written? If you’re going with an outsourced service to build your software, is there someone on your team who is familiar enough with software development to competently oversee such a project? Is the application development experience there? How many different software deployments of this kind, for a business similar to yours, has the vendor completed? If you’re answering any or all of these questions with a flat-out “no,” or even an apprehensive, “I’m not sure…” it’s totally understandable. After all, as a wholesale business, your main focus probably doesn’t have much to do with programming.

2. A good dedicated software vendor will better understand your needs.

When choosing a dedicated software vendor, it’s best to find one who’s built their tool off of a foundation of first-hand experiences with your core business (and your pain points). An established vendor will draw on the feedback of the thousands of customers using their application to anticipate your needs and to iterate on the software faster. Because of that domain experience, it’s likely that their software will better address those pain points than something a bespoke software provider could build for you, even if you provided some direction.

3. You want to get started right away.

It’s likely that in the process of building your own software solution, you’ll have several bumps in the road. From start to finish, you could be talking months--or even years, in the experience of some companies we’ve spoken with--of development, with many new iterations and versions in between. The good thing about a dedicated software vendor is that their tools are ready-made and ready-to-go. Once you make a decision on which vendor to go with, you can move straight to implementation. Having brought their product to market, gained traction, and taken on a large customer base, the trials and tribulations of the initial development process is already over.

4. You don’t want to be stuck with software maintenance and updates. 

A dedicated vendor (a good one, anyway) will be constantly making improvements to their software, adding features, refining their design, and keeping pace with technological advancements. Technology changes fast. With a custom-built option, making improvements over time will require a further expenditure of resources and effort from you, which can be a major pain point, especially when software development is not your company’s core competency. What if the person you hired to build your software solution decides to take a job somewhere else, leaving you and your team high and dry when you need help with troubleshooting or updates? Another question to ask yourself is: will you be able to improve that software as your business grows? With a relatively small pool of users driving enhancements in the case of custom-built software, it will be difficult to anticipate future needs and effectively scale upward. A dedicated vendor with a large customer base will have worked with small, medium and large businesses alike, so you know their solution is future-proof.

5. You can focus on your core business: selling.

The process of custom-building software can be expensive and time-consuming. A project like this can also be a big distraction from your core business, as well as a tiresome issue to deal with internally when it comes to budgeting and resource planning. Rather than draining resources on software engineers and lines of code--and spending your management’s time on assessing and overseeing such a project--it makes more sense to focus on what you do best, which is making sales, getting product out of your warehouses and into stores, and constantly working to grow your customer relationships.   When thinking about off-the-shelf vs. custom software, it’s crucial to consider the viability of the software beyond the first iteration, and what you’ll need in order to maintain, update and scale it. If, on the other hand, you can identify a dedicated software vendor for your wholesale business that meets the majority of your needs right out of the box, it may save you a world of headache. Thoughts on the pros and cons of a dedicated software vendor vs. custom-built options? Let us know in the comments below!