Home Virto Commerce blog Ecommerce Architecture for Websites and Marketplaces: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding & Optimizing

Ecommerce Architecture for Websites and Marketplaces: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding & Optimizing

Apr 10, 2023 • 7 min

Every ecommerce venture hinges on a robust online platform. But what's often overlooked is the underlying architecture that supports and propels this platform. The right architectural foundation doesn't just enhance performance — it determines the future success of your business.

In this comprehensive guide, we explore the various architectures that can drive your ecommerce site, delve into the multiple layers that construct them, and provide invaluable insights into choosing the most effective model for your needs. Whether you're launching a new ecommerce project or considering a transition to a more scalable solution, you'll find expert advice on how to approach this critical decision.

What Is eCommerce Architecture

eCommerce architecture is a framework of an online ecommerce platform with all the design and other technical details and components that help to sell and buy goods. The term embraces everything, from the front-end user interface to the back-end server infrastructure. Architecture can represent different models, from the monolithic to atomic. 

The architecture model in ecommerce is the way all the technical components and structures are organized to provide the needed layers, subsystems, and components of an ecommerce platform and interact between them. The architecture usually used for ecommerce is a two-, three- or five-layer pattern embracing presentation, application, data layers and more, that we will explain in detail further. eCommerce can be different: good ecommerce architecture examples are Amazon and Airbnb. They took the standard monolithic architecture and turned it into microservices which means every service works independently providing one particular feature. 

What Is a Web-Based eCommerce Architecture

A web-based commerce architecture is basically the same as any other ecommerce platform architecture. The idea is that such architecture is closely bonded with the web interface of the ecommerce website and can be split into two basic layers — client-side (front end) and server-side (back-end). It can be monolithic, headless, offer microservices or be atomic (integrating core capabilities and business functions together like atoms, independent, but working as one, for the same goal). Whatever you choose — all these architectures will work on making your ecommerce website available for customers. 

How many layers are used in the ecommerce framework

The common rule is that an ecommerce framework has two or three layers: the two components of ecommerce software architecture are front-end and back-end parts (two-tier architecture), and the three layers are as follows: 

1. Presentation layer 

This user-facing layer includes the website, layout, user interface, personal account portal, and any other part of the system end users can reach. 

2. Application layer 

An application layer usually handles the business logic and all the internal processes, including product catalog management, shopping carts, payment processing systems, and order tools that make the system work. 

3. Data layer 

At this tier, all the data related to the ecommerce platform is stored. It includes product information, customer data, order history, and many other details the system may need. 

Simple ecommerce architecture diagram

A three-layer ecommerce architecture

This tier logic is pretty often used to describe any ecommerce system. In reality, it only fits old and outdated solutions: monolithic and SaaS. Modern modular ecommerce platforms usually utilize at least five-level logic or atomic structure with a completely different approach. 

The 5 key components of ecommerce technical architecture for modern solutions

1. Presentation layer

Just like in a previous map, you can find all the applications needed for an ecommerce system functioning at this tier: website, mobile applications, personal accounts, gadget interfaces, and other front-end client apps. This tier doesn’t feature any business logic and doesn’t show any unnecessary data. As it is built for front-end users, it should be thin and flexible, easily adaptable to any client’s needs. 

2. Business logic layer

This level contains business logic as several separate blocks related to different industries. Each block works with requests from the application layer, controls commerce modules, organizes data and integrations. This tier is only available to developers and is core to all the processes of the ecommerce system. 

3. Commerce modules layer

Here we come to the layer usually referred to as “ecommerce” but built with the Atomic Architecture™ idea. Every module is a separate block of features and capabilities that work for one particular goal: catalog module, pricing module, marketing module, inventory and more. As each of the modules is independent and linked to other modules and tiers through API, they can be seamlessly changed, upgraded, scaled and scaled down, without affecting any other functionality. 

4. Best-in-breed applications layer

Though the parts of this tier do not belong to the ecommerce platform itself, these are the necessary tools, often open source of free, that businesses use to make the whole system function. This includes databases (similar to the Data layer in an old-fashioned map, but wider), search modules, storages, cache, MySql tools etc. The main part of the system (ecommerce) is connected to this tier via API as well, which means any of the modules (or “Atoms”) can be easily replaced or exchanged. 

5. 3rd-party apps layer 

This level is the last, though it plays the same role for customers as a presentation layer. It uses API to connect the whole system to the user-visible interfaces, but this time these are not the apps created by a system, but 3rd-party apps connected to the ecommerce platform and necessary for its functioning. This includes CRMs, ERP systems, any payment systems and more. 

Five0layer ecommerce architecture

Five-layer ecommerce architectture: Virto example

You can download the full Virto Architectural guidelines here: eCommerce architecture diagram (PDF download).

How many types of architecture are there in ecommerce

As we mentioned before, there are outdated systems, and modern modular ones. Whatever you choose, to be competitive, any modern system must support microservices, be headless, and have cloud-native features. Let’s dive deeper into the types of ecommerce project architecture available today:

Monolithic architecture 

Monolithic architecture is a standard approach where all components of a webstore are interconnected, causing any back-end modifications to impact the entire solution. As a result, rebuilding the entire ecommerce system becomes the only way to implement any small changes. 

SaaS solutions 

These are cloud-based solutions that can offer microservices. However, SaaS solutions are fully closed: licensed through subscriptions and fully controlled by providers, they require provider’s confirmation for any changes. Smaller businesses with slow growth and basic feature needs can potentially benefit from these systems, however, it is still not the perfect option to choose.

MACH architecture

MACH means Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native and Headless. This kind of ecommerce system is the best one for building a strong and future-proof ecommerce businesses with fast time-to-value. Modular architecture and open-source technology offer the flexibility to build websites according to individual specifications without disrupting existing storefront features.

Challenges and Advantages of Each eCommerce Architecture Type

Monolithic architecture 


1. They are simple and easy to use 

The monolithic architecture is generally straightforward to develop, test, and deploy because it is all contained within one codebase and can be deployed as a single package. 


1. Not scalable and expensive 

Monolithic architecture can be difficult to scale because all components are interdependent. The only way to scale it is to upgrade the whole system. Scaling it takes time and resources. If you do this open, the expenditure will be extra high. 

2. Difficult to maintain  

The changes made to one component can have unintended consequences in other parts of the application. This is why the maintenance is usually on the side of the provider, and as the provider has many tasks to do, and needs to ensure this will work, the simple fix can take an eternity. 

3. Rigid and not technology-friendly 

All components of the monolithic solution must use the same technology stack. If you are planning to try something new, choosing a monolithic solution is a bad idea. 

SaaS solutions


1. Ready-to-go 

Once you install a SaaS solution, you can use it right away. It is usually packed with all the needed features out-of-the-box, and already set up. 

2. Automatic updates 

You do not need any resources for maintenance and updates. The provider is responsible for all the technical parts. The bad side is that it cannot adapt to your needs.  


1. Provider-dependent 

To maintain the software and ensure its availability, you need to rely on a provider. In case the provider fails to upgrade some part or takes too long to change anything, you cannot change the situation, and have to wait. 

2. Security concerns 

As SaaS solutions are usually based on the web, you have to thoroughly check if the vendor offers a good enough level of security. 

3. Not adaptable 

Buying a SaaS solution, you get a set of particular features ready to use. However, all the features are the same for all users of this solution. Once you need to develop something unique, you will have to find ways of persuading your SaaS vendor this feature is essential, or simply replatform. 

4. Integration challenges 

SaaS solutions can only integrate to the tools they are initially built for. Integration with any other tools can become a real challenge. 

MACH architecture 


1. Accessibility 

Microservices, headless and open-source architecture based on  Atomic principles is publicly available and can be freely used, modified, and distributed. Once you purchase such a system, you can use all the OOTB features and add the new ones once needed 

2. Flexibility 

Modular architecture allows for easy customization and integration with other systems and software, making it a flexible option for businesses. 

3. Cost-effective 

Modern solutions like Virto are often order-based or GMV-based with transparent pricing principles. Instead of spending loads of money for each upgrade and having many features you never use, you can buy the set of features you really need and pay for them and your innovations only. 

4. Easy integrations 

API-based systems can connect to basically everything. Once you need to use any 3rd-party system, just interconnect it with your existing assets, and it will work. 


1. The complexity of the architecture 

Modern ecommerce systems bring many opportunities for your business development and growth, however, you need to make sure that your technical team will be able to bring the needed innovations. Nevertheless, most of the vendors offer personnel training, learning materials and technical help. Virto has its own developer's community where you can find all the necessary info or request help. 

2. No ready-to-use front end 

As headless solutions have a separate front end and back end, they often cannot provide a ready-to-go website with standard features. Of course, you will get the initial version of the front-end, but to build your own unique platform, you will need to put a bit more effort. The good side is that you can add whatever innovation you want during this process. 

How to Create a Website Architecture for eCommerce Websites

To build a website architecture, you need to create a structure that makes it easy for users to navigate, find products, and make purchases. Here are some steps to follow: 

  1. Define the goals of the ecommerce website. What do you want to achieve with the site and what will you be offering? The answers will help you realize what to do next. 
  2. Build a sitemap and the structure of the website's pages: website hierarchy will help in managing pages and tracking how users navigate through them. 
  3. Think about the homepage: design it to grab the customers' attention and encourage them to explore the platform. 
  4. Create product categories and pages: for each category, create a separate space where customers can find all the relevant info. 
  5. Design the shopping cart and organize the checkout process to make the processes simple and straightforward. 
  6. Take care of the mobile users: make your website mobile-responsive. More and more users are shopping on their mobile devices. Make sure your ecommerce website adapts to different screen sizes and devices. 

eCommerce website requirements 

eCommerce websites should be user-friendly, modern, flexible, and very convenient for customers. The most important part is that it should be adaptable to changes: it is recommended to renew the UI and structure every 3-5 years to keep up with the latest trends and client needs. Here, we have collected some tips on what modules are usually required for an ecommerce website: 

  • Product catalog 

Ensure your platform allows building a product catalog with search and filtering options that make it easy for customers to find the products. 

  • Shopping cart and checkout 

The website should have a simple and easy-to-use shopping cart and checkout process that allows customers to complete their purchases securely.  

  • Payment processing 

The website should feature a secure and reliable payment system that allows customers to make payments using their preferred payment methods, such as credit cards or PayPal. 

  • Shipping and delivery options 

An efficient shipping and delivery system that allows customers to choose their preferred shipping method is essential for ecommerce websites.  

  • High-level customer service 

Dedicated customer service is a key part of all customer CX. Ensure you can provide helpful information and resources, such as FAQs, contact information, and support options. 

How to Develop a Scalable eCommerce Architecture

Developing a scalable commerce architecture is crucial as your business expands. Modular and API-based architecture is specifically built to make scaling process easy. Here are some tips on how to get a scalable ecommerce system: 

  • Start by choosing a hosting provider that can offer scalability and flexibility. Look for providers that offer cloud hosting or virtual private servers (VPS) as these can be scaled up or down as needed. 
  • Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that can integrate with multiple servers: this will improve the website's performance and scalability. 
  • Build a modular architecture of the parts you really need: a bunch of frequently used modules with modern features will help you to scale up or down quickly and easily without overhauling the entire system. 
  • Implement caching to reduce the load on your web server. 
  • Implement load balancing to distribute traffic across multiple servers to improve performance and prevent downtime.

eCommerce architecture design planning  

As MACH architecture is the most likely suitable for an ecommerce site, you might need to build one. Looking at the tips above, planning and building a headless, modular ecommerce system might seem easy. In reality, it requires time and resources. 

To succeed, you have to forecast what will be needed for your business and try to implement these features first. Here are the initial steps to do when planning an architecture: 

  1. Realize your strategic domains: find out what you want to build, and how to do it better. 
  2. Consider your technical capabilities to ensure your team can create such a complex structure. 
  3. Build crucial steps to initiate development and form a roadmap. 

eCommerce project architecture can be built fast, but to make it modern and adaptable, with all the features available, possibly the best way is choosing the system with the ready architecture or consulting an expert team on the process of building. 

eCommerce software architecture optimization

Online marketplace architecture optimization leads to saving resources, time and money, reaching time-to-value as fast as possible. This is the best way to achieve superb CX quality and disrupt the market. So here are the main optimizations you should do to win the competition race: 

  1. Storefront optimization includes SEO optimization, easy design and adaptation to the latest trends. 
  2. Business logic optimization allows for streamlining processes, making performance easier, and providing customers with more capabilities. 
  3. Modules optimization leads to easier scaling and flexibility opportunities. For example, Virto commerce modular system allows you to scale your capabilities, when needed (like everyone needs at Black Friday), and then scale them down easily. 
  4. Data optimization is an expensive process, so you better purchase a system that can optimize your data when it's needed, without further action. 
  5. Best-in-breed tier optimization: when 3rd-party suppliers launch something new that can bring benefits, you can always exchange it easily, if you are using an API-based solution. This can help you not only optimize your website, but increase client loyalty, convenience, and overall revenue. 

Assemble Scalable eCcommerce Solution with Virto Atomic Architecture

Virto is a modern innovation platform that ensures fast time-to-value. The solution is totally MACH type, as it is built with the unique Virto Commerce Atomic Architecture. API-based, and headless. Here are the reasons why you can overrun your competitors easily with Virto solutions: 

Virto Commerce's Extensibility Framework ensures that the platform is highly extensible, providing businesses with the flexibility to tailor the platform to their specific needs. 

The platform is powered by the unique Atomic Architecture™ that allows to seamlessly scale operations by connecting with more partners and suppliers. 

As a cloud native B2B ecommerce platform, Virto Commerce is designed to be deployed in the cloud. The cloud-native and cloud-agnostic design ensures that the platform is easily accessible and deployable. 

Virto Commerce offers multi-store capabilities, works with different languages and currencies, and can cater to the needs of businesses with different regional requirements. 

Wrapping It Up

Out of all the ecommerce platform types, the most suitable architecture for modern ecommerce is atomic, headless, API-based and with the capability to build microservices. Heineken Global, Bosch, Grolsch, Standaard Boekhandel and other world-known companies have already reached market superiority by replatforming to Virto. To learn more about how Virto skyrockets businesses growth, download our Architectural Guidelines or reach our experts for a personal consultation. 

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