Understanding Enterprise eCommerce Architecture

Key Concepts and Strategies

Ecommerce platforms should be tailored to fit your business’s architecture. Learn how Shopify lets you choose the best approach for your needs—whether that’s full stack, headless, or modular. 

As an enterprise retailer, selecting the right eCommerce architecture for your online store is one of the most strategic decisions you can make. Early eCommerce websites—and many still today—were built using a monolithic approach. This method involved breaking down the technology into “layers” that worked together to create the entire buying experience. Understanding these layers is crucial for grasping how modern architectures function. 

The Presentation Layer 

The top layer in eCommerce architecture is the presentation layer, where customers directly interact with your store. Everything from images to fonts to buttons is delivered by the technology in the presentation layer—primarily HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. 

The Business Logic, Application, or Service Layer 

The next layer is the business logic layer, also known as the application layer or the service layer. This layer encompasses the core functions of the online store, such as inventory management, promotions, checkout, and pricing.

The Data Layer 

The final layer in an eCommerce architecture is the data layer. Customers do not interact with this layer directly; it is where information is stored and retrieved, typically in relational databases. For instance, every purchase made by our customers, along with their names, addresses, and other important buying information, is stored in the data layer. This data is retrieved by the other layers when customers log in to make another purchase. 

As customer expectations evolve and the desire to shop across multiple channels grows, companies are rapidly innovating their eCommerce architecture. Modern technologies enable businesses to reorganize the monolithic layers using APIs and other tools to create more efficient, faster, and modern buying experiences. A recent IDC report found that 67% of companies are modifying or planning to modify their commerce architecture to prepare for the future (Shopify, 2024). 

Exploring Ecommerce Architectures: Benefits and Drawbacks 

In this article, we’ll explore four types of eCommerce architectures, highlighting their advantages and disadvantages. We’ll also discuss how to choose the right platform for your eCommerce needs. 

Types of Ecommerce Architecture 

Monolithic System: Most all-in-one eCommerce solutions are monolithic, meaning all layers are tightly integrated. This approach suits businesses with basic needs and low technical overhead. 

Headless Solution: In a headless architecture, the data layer is separated from the presentation and business logic layers. Data is accessed via APIs, offering flexibility and faster development since changes in the front end don’t affect the back end and vice versa. 

Modular System: This approach arranges specific functions and features into reusable modules. Developers can easily add, upgrade, or replace capabilities by integrating new modules, speeding up time to market and allowing for flexible use of services from different vendors. 

Microservices Approach: The most flexible architecture, microservices, involves separating layers into independent components. This approach offers granular control over services, allowing targeted scaling without impacting other functionalities. It’s best for large retailers with skilled technical teams focused on rapid innovation. 


Comparing Monolithic and Microservices Architectures 

Monolithic Architecture: 


  • Faster Time to Market: Integrated systems enable quick setup. For instance, Heinz used Shopify to launch an online store in seven days during COVID-19. 
  • Lower Technical Requirements: Preconfigured and integrated functions simplify monitoring, debugging, and maintenance. 
  • Cost Effective: Eliminates the need for extensive development expertise, reducing the cost of hiring technical resources. 


  • Lack of Flexibility: Changes in one part can impact the entire system, limiting customization options. 
  • Scaling Challenges: Scaling individual components is difficult, often requiring the entire system to scale. 
  • Development Bottlenecks: Common codebase can slow down innovation and deployment times. 

Microservices Architecture: 


  • Competitive Agility: Allows rapid adaptation to market demands by quickly building and launching new features without affecting the entire system. 
  • Individual Scalability: Components can be scaled independently, such as scaling a product catalog without affecting the database. 
  • Developer Autonomy: Teams can work independently, using the best tools for their tasks, speeding up development. 


  • High Initial Investment: Significant time and cost are required to implement or migrate to a microservices architecture. 
  • Complex Maintenance: Monitoring and troubleshooting a distributed system requires considerable effort. 
  • Technical Resource Challenges: Finding and retaining the right technical talent to support a dynamic system can be difficult. 

Choosing the right eCommerce architecture depends on your business goals, technical resources, and need for flexibility or rapid innovation. Each approach offers unique benefits and challenges, making it essential to assess your specific requirements before deciding.

Composable and Headless Ecommerce Architecture 

Headless architecture and composable systems offer more flexibility than a monolithic system without the extreme complexity of microservices. Headless architecture separates the back end from the front end, enabling communication between the two through APIs. This allows you to build your front end with composable or modular components. 

Why Use a Composable Architecture for Ecommerce? 

When a business wants to integrate eCommerce functions from different providers but doesn’t want to take on the complexity and cost of a fully custom build, composable architecture can be a good fit. Composable systems let developers use prebuilt components from different vendors without having to build them from scratch. Often, they can mix and match for faster development and greater agility.

Composable Architecture


  • Ease of Integration: Composable architecture allows developers to quickly choose and integrate best-of-breed components. This enables online retailers to swiftly add and upgrade functionality to enhance the buying experience. 
  • Flexibility and Agility: Markets and customer preferences change quickly. Composable architecture provides developers with building blocks they can select and deploy independently of the back-end systems. 
  • Efficient Scalability: Since the various components are decoupled, they can be scaled individually, making resource usage more efficient. 


  • Increased Complexity at Scale: As the architecture grows, managing diverse components from different vendors can become challenging. This can lead to higher development costs and more technical time spent on overhead management. 
  • Dependency on Vendors: Relying on specific vendors for critical functions can result in vendor lock-in, leading to increasing costs over time. Your entire store could be affected if a provider’s services become unavailable. 
  • Integration Management: Ensuring seamless integration across different components can be challenging. Not all components will necessarily work well together, potentially impacting system performance. 

Why Use a Headless Architecture for Ecommerce? 

Today’s online shoppers expect personalized experiences, opportunities to buy across channels, and media-rich product catalogs. Adapting to these expectations can directly boost revenue. A study by Epsilon found that consumers are 80% more likely to make a purchase when brands offer a personalized experience. Many brands adopt headless architecture to deliver immersive, omnichannel customer experiences. 

Headless eCommerce


  • Seamless Connectivity: Headless architecture, especially on platforms like Shopify, allows for systems that seamlessly integrate with third parties. This enables faster deployment of new features and functions. 
  • Omnichannel Capabilities: Headless architecture allows for customized buying experiences tailored for different channels, such as email, social media, and mobile apps. 
  • Rapid Innovation: By separating the front end from the back end, technical teams can work independently, resulting in faster development times. New capabilities can be launched quickly, fostering rapid innovation.



  • Increased Complexity: Migrating from a monolithic or full-platform architecture to headless commerce increases overall complexity. Ensuring consistency and synchronization between the front and back ends requires more effort. 
  • Skilled Technical Resources: Managing a headless architecture requires specialized technical skills. More time must be spent ensuring synchronized operations as eCommerce functions become more dispersed. 
  • API Dependency: Headless architectures rely on APIs for communication between the front and back end. Any issues with API performance and stability can impact your business. 
  • Increased Overhead: Launching multiple front ends across channels with a headless architecture requires more development time and ongoing support from your teams.


Choosing the right eCommerce architecture depends on your business goals, technical resources, and need for flexibility or rapid innovation. Each approach offers unique benefits and challenges, making it essential to assess your specific requirements before deciding. 

What is the Best Architecture for eCommerce? 

Every retailer has unique needs, and their technical requirements will evolve—sometimes rapidly. It’s crucial to thoroughly assess your current and future needs, business goals, and technical resources when choosing the right eCommerce architecture. These factors are essential in selecting the most suitable eCommerce technology for your enterprise. 

Choosing the right platform provider is critical, regardless of your chosen eCommerce tech stack. Avoid platforms that force you into an unsuitable architecture, lock you into long-term contracts, or require expensive, specialized developers. 

The ideal platform provider will flexibly support the eCommerce architecture that best suits your needs. Platforms like Shopify offer the ability to transition between different architectures without requiring migration. For example, fashion retailer AJE completely revamped their online store, enhanced their mobile buying experience, and increased functionality, all while staying with Shopify. 

Shopify allows you to choose the option that works best for your business: full-platform, headless, or composable commerce. Shopify also ensures access to popular components like Shop Pay (an accelerated checkout) across all architectures. Retailers on Shopify benefit from the highest converting checkout on the web. 

How to Evaluate Your Current eCommerce Architecture 

Reviewing your current eCommerce architecture helps determine if changes are needed for your business. Start by considering your current and future business needs and how customer expectations and behaviors might evolve. Evaluate the scalability, flexibility, and speed of your current architecture to see if it will meet your future requirements. 

Even if your current architecture is performing well, your platform provider might not be. Here are some questions to ask when evaluating your eCommerce platform: 

  • Does the platform decrease your total cost of ownership, both top line and bottom line? 
  • Will the platform increase or decrease your overall flexibility, agility, and time to market? 
  • Does the platform lock you into a specific architecture or long-term contract with the vendor? 
  • Does the platform support an infrastructure designed for innovation? 
  • How much optionality does the platform offer? Is it enough for your needs? 
  • Can the platform scale to meet your business needs? 
  • Does the platform invest in research and development? 
  • Is the platform recognized in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant™? 
  • How well does the platform support your industry or sector? 
  • How many out-of-the-box capabilities do you need? 
  • How does the platform integrate with other systems you are using? 

Selecting the right eCommerce architecture is a strategic decision that impacts your ability to meet evolving business goals and customer expectations. Whether you choose a monolithic, headless, modular, or microservices approach, understanding your current and future needs, technical resources, and market dynamics is crucial. Each architecture type offers unique benefits and challenges, and the choice depends on the specific requirements of your enterprise. 

A flexible platform provider like Shopify can be instrumental in this process, offering the ability to transition between different architectures without the need for complex migrations. This flexibility ensures that your eCommerce system can grow and adapt with your business, supporting various functionalities and enabling rapid innovation. 

Ultimately, the best eCommerce architecture for your business is one that aligns with your strategic objectives, offers scalability, and enhances your ability to deliver personalized, omnichannel customer experiences. By carefully evaluating your current architecture and considering future requirements, you can make an informed decision that supports sustainable growth and competitive agility. 


If you have questions or need assistance executing these strategies, our team is available at hello@tidalcommerce.ca.


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