5 Steps to Minimise Your Headless Commerce Total Cost of Ownership

Here's how to set the right expectations, stay within budget, and find success now.

Eric Lessard
Director of Product Marketing, Salesforce Commerce Cloud

A whopping 80% of businesses plan to implement headless commerce within the next two years. Why? Headless offers unrivaled speed and agility — making it easier to keep up with market trends, business needs, and customer expectations. With headless, commerce teams can improve speed to market and deliver on customer expectations fast. Once businesses realise that headless can save loads of time, one question remains: What about total cost of ownership (TCO)?

There are many things to consider when it comes to the price tag for headless. For example, which commerce functionalities will you build and/or buy, who will manage and maintain your site, and who is responsible for uptime, reliability, and trust? To minimise costs and speed up your time to value, it’s critical to set the right expectations and develop a solid implementation plan. This involves vetting vendors and partners and finding the right balance between cost and customisation.

Here’s a guide that will help you properly evaluate the TCO and find success now.

1. Start by establishing a cost-benefit model
to set the right expectations.

The first major milestone for commerce professionals, IT leaders, and CIOs who want to implement headless: getting buy-in from the finance team. The goal is to show how headless can grow top-line revenue and create operational efficiencies. And that all starts with setting the right cost-benefit model. This will help you balance growth expectations alongside expenses, cost drivers, and (of course) the TCO.

Here are a few possible headless scenarios and some of the questions you’ll want to answer up front:

If you have entrenched, legacy applications: This requires upgrading costs every 2 to 3 years, patching and bug-fixing when systems become outdated, and building new enhancements when consumer trends or business requirements change (which is often). Are these legacy commerce systems worth saving? If so, who will manage this technical debt — and how will it connect to your vision of commerce in the future?

If you’re taking the API-only route and plan to build it yourself: Consider how you’ll factor in development costs. Are you spending time and budget building and maintaining commodity services instead of investing in those that can help you grow faster? API-only deployments often take years to properly launch and the result can be inferior to building on top of a trusted composable storefront, prebuilt for growth.

If you’re looking to vendor consortiums to patch together a solution: This requires managing multiple vendors, each with different sales teams, unique contracts, and disparate pricing models. That’s a lot to juggle. As you vet vendors, how will you see beyond the upfront costs to determine the price tag for ongoing maintenance and support? It’s also important to consider how quickly these systems might become “shelfware” (i.e., software that is purchased, but never used).

2. Be strategic about your headless partnerships.

Now that you’ve considered your headless use case and set your cost-benefit model, the next step is to decide which commerce functionalities you will build and which you will buy. It’s important to be strategic about your partnerships because the right ones can save you time and money — and the wrong ones can send your TCO through the roof.

For example, choosing an API-only vendor that only provides basic commerce services and a lightweight tool set can lead to runaway costs. This will push your IT team to seek out third-party providers to fill the gaps — for content, search, personalisation, promotions, analytics, A/B testing, order management, and more. On the other hand, choosing a strategic partner with out-of-the-box tools and integrated commerce services can save you time and money, while helping you create efficiencies for your business down the road:

Efficiencies for business users: Working with a partner that offers connected commerce means you won’t need to cobble together an array of systems that may cause merchandiser inefficiency. For example, performing a simple task shouldn’t require logging in to multiple systems and toggling between different tabs. With connected commerce, merchandisers won’t need to log a ticket with IT for mission-critical tasks like building a campaign.

Ability to scale for peak traffic: Many vendors are clear about uptime and service governance. However, it’s critical to be sure that their services can scale for heavy traffic, especially if you have a large organisation.

Avoid additional complexity: No matter what route to headless you choose or who you partner with, headless commerce still requires building integrations into third-party systems. In turn, this requires coordination and expertise to orchestrate — which may not be regulated or maintained. The right partner will help you make sure your integrations are prebuilt and certified together.

To meet your headless commerce goals, decide on the commerce services you need, build and integrate those commerce services together with a trusted partner, and define a process around ongoing support and management. The right partner will provide the best services to help you execute your headless strategy and the expertise to scale your business as it grows.

3. Get the best out of your commerce solution: flexibility and long-term customer success.

If you want predictable costs, this doesn’t have to come at the expense of flexibility and the freedom to customise experiences. All too often, businesses implementing headless think the only way to customise the commerce experience is to build the platform themselves. If you build from scratch, you’re on your own when it comes to sourcing and purchasing foundational commerce functionalities.

Instead, working with the right partner can offer a best-of-both-worlds approach: They bring decision-making and tooling expertise, while your team is still in control of building a unique brand experience. Composable commerce can help here. This is a development approach for headless that enables you to select best-of-breed commerce components and combine (or “compose”) them into a custom application built for your specific business needs and goals.

In other words, you can cherry-pick your technology of choice to create a memorable online experience for customers.

4. Don’t shortchange your digital storefront.

Many API-only vendors don’t include a high-scale web storefront in their product suites. This is surprising, considering that your digital storefront is the online representation of your brand. It’s your user-facing website where shoppers can browse and purchase your products. For enterprise companies, the storefront can represent millions — and sometimes even billions — of dollars. To minimise TCO and drive growth, here’s what to look for when it comes to a partner for your commerce storefront:

Merchandising business user tooling: If you choose an API-only vendor, you’ll be lacking robust business user tooling for merchandisers like catalog management, inventory capabilities, price books, content management, and more. To make up for it, you’ll need to cobble together third-party solutions to manage a storefront — which significantly impacts the total cost of your entire solution. While simple storefront templates may be available, they often lack a data-driven methodology to optimise every second and every click of a shopping session.

Front-end hosting and uptime: Businesses need an environment to host, scale, and secure their headless storefront. Without a platform partner that takes responsibility for uptime and maintenance of your storefront, your IT team is left to build and manage complex infrastructure on its own — which is costly and time-consuming. What’s more, hosting fees can vary drastically depending on traffic and the features of your website, so it can be difficult to know from the get go what kind of budget you will need to allot. Choosing a partner that not only hosts your site, but manages its scalability and security, can be invaluable. This significantly minimises costs and it also insulates your business from many risks.

5. Have a plan for management and maintenance.

Headless commerce gives developers and IT teams full autonomy and the flexibility to own the customer experience. But with this power also comes responsibility. With a homegrown headless platform, your IT team is responsible for ongoing maintenance, availability, security, and scalability.

This means your IT team must understand how peak traffic affects the limits of your storefront along with each commerce service. Regular load testing and monitoring is critical to ensure that any errors are caught immediately. Ultimately, your IT team is tasked with keeping your site up and running smoothly. Additionally, trust and compliance also falls on the shoulders of IT teams and developers. They will need to implement continuous monitoring and create anti-abuse, fraud detection, and prevention measures.

The more resources you delegate to manage maintenance and uptime, the less you’ll have for innovation. It’s difficult to stay agile when most of your time is spent ensuring the commerce experience is online. Choosing a headless path requires organisations to have the right skill set and enough resources for success.

The alternative? Work with a trusted partner with the experience and expertise to manage these aspects of the commerce experience.

Get started with your headless transformation — and minimise the TCO.

With Salesforce Headless Commerce, you get everything you need for headless, as well as the flexibility to pick and choose the parts that are the best fit for your business.

Create a custom experience that differentiates your brand and unlocks agility with the Composable Storefront for headless commerce. Or bring your own storefront and deploy on top of our headless APIs. You can even mix and match these approaches across your different channels and regions.

With the Composable Storefront, you get built-in security, a historical 99.99% uptime, and proven global customer success. Because Salesforce manages headless deployments, you’ll be freed from the responsibilities of ongoing maintenance, availability, security, and scalability of the front end.

Developer tools, APIs, prebuilt partner integrations, and other back-end services allow you to deliver a headless commerce architecture that keeps costs at bay, gets you to market fast, and increases developer productivity. By offering a flexible, trusted, and intelligent platform with a composable storefront and out-of-the-box developer tools, your commerce experience will be smarter, faster, and more connected.



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More Resources

The New Retail Playbook
Research and Reports
Second Edition: State of Commerce
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