StoriesBlogBest practicesChoosing between custom development and SaaS? Here’s what you need to know

Choosing between custom development and SaaS? Here’s what you need to know

November 2, 2022

When deciding on getting a mall app, the next question is:

Should it be a custom development or a SaaS?

There are pros and cons to both options, and the right answer is going to depend on your situation.

In this blog post, we have a look at the over-all key differences between the two, to help you decide, which is the right solution for you.

Custom development needs no introduction. It's been the go-to choice in the shopping center industry for years. But, does that mean it's the right one?

SaaS (Software as a service) on the other hand, can seem exotic at first glance, but the reality is that it's all around you. SaaS solutions have been around since the turn of the century.

80% of businesses already use at least one SaaS application (SaaS Statistics, Gajic, 2021)

SaaS is when you get access to use already made and centrally hosted software, in exchange for an annual or monthly fee. Some examples of SaaS are: Slack, Dropbox, HubSpot and Google Workspace.

Generally speaking, the differences between custom development and SaaS are


Whether we're talking in-house or a software agency, custom development is expensive.

With a SaaS, your spendings are limited to the implementation fee and annual(or monthly) fee.

Most don't have the resources and competences to develop an app in house. This means that a custom app is dependent on a big ongoing budget to keep the platform up to date with user needs, as every time a new update is needed, you need to pay to get it done. Trouble shooting and updates can quickly eat away at your budget.

With a SaaS, ongoing maintenance and updates are covered by the annual (or monthly) fee.


When choosing a custom development, you typically won't know whether you will actually have a fully functioning app in your hands by the end of it. That is the risk you're going to have to take.

As a custom solution isn't user tested by the masses, there will, with all probability, be a gap between what a few people thought would work and what actually works. And, fixing it can be a very pricy experience.

With a SaaS, you're buying an already developed and fully tested app, shaped by years of customer use. This means the risk is much lower, as it's been proven to work.


A custom development is, like the name indicates, custom.

That means it can contain everything your heart desires.

With SaaS, you're limited to the possibilities within the software. But, it is worth noting that many good SaaS offer API integrations to allow for some customization.

The level of customization needed will typically also depend on how specialized of a SaaS you're choosing - if you want a shopping center app and choose a SaaS that focuses on shopping apps, you will probably need to do more customization than if you choose a SaaS that specializes in shopping center apps.

Time frame

Custom development takes time. Exactly how long is going to depend on various factors like how many developers are working on it, and how many hours a week. But, it is not uncommon for a custom app development to take a year.

With SaaS, the software is already developed. Only thing to do is to customize it, and get ready for launch.

This means that, with SaaS, you can focus your time and resources on creating value with your app, rather than spending it on getting it up and running.

Staff Training

When you launch an app, it is very important that the center management team and shop workers in your shopping center are familiar with it.

Typically, custom development means there'll be a thorough onboarding.

With SaaS, onboarding isn't always part of the deal. While some SaaS, such as Emplate, offer onboarding, access to a customer success manager and a knowledge hub for management as well as one for shop workers, that is not always the case and should be researched before making a decision.


With a custom development, you have control over your app.

The question is, whether that actually means you are independent.

If you have in house development, the answer is yes. However, if you rely on a consultancy company, the answer is not so clear. Because, it is generally very difficult to hand over a big project from one consultancy to another, as they won't know the details and decisions along the way.

A cloud based solution like a SaaS does not offer the option of switching from one SaaS developer to another, but it does offer the full access and control over the data gathered in the platform, without having to build it yourself.

The right decision

It's impossible to say, what the right decision for your specific situation is.

That being said, overarchingly across the shopping center industry, it is worth re-considering the preference there has historically been for custom development.

The main reasons why shopping centers have tended to favor custom development has generally come down to a want for control, the level of customization and the familiarity of the process.

But, while those are valid points, it is perhaps worth considering whether custom development actually offers much more of these, or whether the risks, timespan and cost is really worth it over the accessibility of SaaS.

If you're interested in learning about how 3 different shopping malls are succeeding with different approaches to their SaaS loyalty apps, check out this blog post.

If you're interested in having a talk about the possibilities of a loyalty app, book a meeting.

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