Is an Off-the-Shelf App Good Enough?

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Posted by Johan van der Steen on 26 Mar, 2020


The app market is incredibly competitive. Research has shown that 90% of mobile users spend their time in apps over mobile websites.

Because of this, users are also becoming more and more picky about which apps they host on their smartphones.

Innovation is now crucial to an app’s success – take Uber and AirBnb as an example. Their shared service and collaboration innovations (such as splitting the fare) have placed them miles ahead of competitors.

Businesses need their app to address their customers’ needs above all else. And because every business is unique and targets different audiences, it’s safe to question whether an off-the-shelf app solution will address a business’ unique needs. The question of whether to build or buy has plagued many C-suite managers. So, bespoke or platform apps – which one will work better for your business?

Defining Bespoke and Platform Solutions

Bespoke applications are ones that have been designed and developed specifically for the end-users needs.

Off-the-shelf applications include commonly-used features and are more or less ready to use at the time of purchase.

The biggest difference between bespoke and platform is that bespoke app developers aim to address each individual need of the customer, taking into consideration specific user journeys and pain points that need to be addressed by the app.

With a platform solution, a business is limited to using the features that are provided by the software and can rarely build anything additional on top. The most common reasons why businesses may opt for a platform solution are time or budgetary constraints, or simply because they are not aware of the limitations.

Now, we’re not saying that off-the-shelf software doesn’t have a time and a place. Whether you opt for a platform or custom app, it will depend entirely on your business, your customers, and what your goals are.

When to Buy

There are a handful of scenarios where an off-the-shelf app is the best option for your business. The lower cost is the most obvious and probably most important reason for companies taking this route. Often it’s as simple as filling in a template and your app is almost ready to go out to your customers. This means less work around the thinking, planning, and building stages; the simplistic nature of these apps means there’s not a huge amount of ongoing support that is required.

The low cost might be advantageous when you’re requiring an app to fulfill only one or a few very simple tasks, such as calendar management, displaying event information, etc.

Another key advantage is time. Due to the low level of work that is required to get platforms apps up and running, it means they can be released in a shorter time frame.

If you’re not intending to service long-term or custom business goals, then an off-the-shelf app could work. A good example of this might be using an app to organise a one-off event such as a conference, with the app having no intention of serving its users once that event has finished.

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

When to Build

With a bespoke app, the winning benefit is that it’s your app. The app is designed to address your, and yours alone, business needs and targets. The user interface and the user experience is made with your target audience in mind and therefore works best to suit their preferences.

With a higher degree of personalisation than off-the-shelf apps, your business is able to provide a more relevant and practical experience to the user, which ultimately increases user engagement and satisfaction.

Tailored experiences are a much sought-after user need, with over 80% of users more likely to make a purchase when a brand offers personalisation. Many leading companies, such as Netflix, Spotify, Starbucks, and Coca Cola, have invested heavily in personalisation due to the huge benefits it brings.

With a more specific audience in mind, a bespoke app can be entirely customised and tested to make sure it fulfills and surpasses your users’ expectations. Bespoke apps are also far more flexible and effective in responding to the constantly changing needs and behaviours of your users.

A custom-made app means you can easily extend its functionality, whereas with platform software, it’s much more difficult to do this (or you simply will just be unable to) and you’ll find you might have to entirely restart the process in a few months’ time. This defeats one of the key reasons for deploying a platform app in the first place, which is to save time.

Bespoke apps serve an endless list of purposes; they can be tailored to drive eCommerce sales, increase employee engagement, and improve operational efficiencies, among others. Essentially, the sky’s the limit – you can address a very niche business need or you can develop a catch-all app that fulfills numerous purposes in one go.

A custom app also means that you own the products and its properties, unlike with off-the-shelf products. This gives you much greater control and reliability when it comes to security. With companies like Boots, Virgin, and Tesco facing issues from data breaches in just the past month alone, the need to protect your own and your user’s data is becoming more and more crucial.

A Leg Up on the Competition

If you’re looking for a competitive advantage, then a bespoke app is the way to go. With a custom product, you know that competitors won’t be able to develop an identical solution, which gives you a clear advantage.

Bespoke apps mean you can work with a team from a digital agency, for example, to create a unique strategy for your business. This team of experts is also on hand, working hard to ensure your app stays on top of current and emerging trends. This means your app will be constantly monitored and updated to reflect any changes in your industry and market.

What’s best for you?

Different approaches suit different needs. It’s a matter of determining what it is exactly that you’re trying to achieve with your app solution.

Do you have a very specific business or customer need that you need to address? If you want to be guided by a team of experts who are knowledgeable about your industry and target audience, and if you want a competitive advantage, then a custom-built app is probably the right choice for you.

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