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The Latest from Amazon: Visual Commerce, India Invasion and EU Antitrust Scrutiny

If you’ve ever mocked Amazon’s not-so-aesthetically-pleasing website, the Seattle-based e-commerce company heard you loud and clear—and it’s finally taking steps to up its UX.

Enter Scout, Amazon’s first foray into visual commerce and a welcome change from the shopping site’s crowded product results pages. It’s limited for now to highly visual product categories like women’s shoes and home décor but could expand to other product types, including apparel and bags, based on consumer response, according to the original report from CNBC.

Scout is geared toward shoppers who don’t quite know what they want but will know it when they see it. Using Scout to shop women’s fashion sneakers brings up a page with the footwear laid out in a grid and thumbs up and down buttons overlaid on each, which, when used will display more of the products you’ve “liked” and fewer of the ones you don’t. It plays into the way consumers interact with content on social platforms and can help steer shoppers to recommendations that better match their interests, instead of simply telling them what other customers have browsed or purchased.

For now, Scout is a feature that lives within the Amazon website—amazon.com/scout—rather than at a standalone URL. Some product detail pages feature the Scout Style Badge, which will direct users to the Scout landing page.

Access to India

Meanwhile, Amazon may have found its foothold into India’s tantalizing retail market. Indian laws prevent a foreign company from outright purchasing a local retailer so Amazon has had to be creative in finding an inroad into one of the most promising emerging economies and one that would bring it on par with Walmart and its Flipkart deal. In a deal worth $583 million, it’s partnering with private equity firm Samara Capital, which is purchasing Witzig Advisory Services, the company that own 99.99% of Aditya Birla Retail (ABR). Among India’s largest chains, ABR is one of myriad companies under the Aditya Birla Group banner, and operates more than 500 More supermarkets and hypermarkets, which sell fashion and footwear alongside groceries, home goods and more.

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Amazon also operates its own e-commerce business in India in addition to a 5 percent equity stake in the Shopper’s Stop chain. Last month, reports surfaced that both Amazon and Google were considering investments in Future Retail, another of India’s top retailers.

Antitrust trouble across the pond?

This all comes as European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Wednesday that her organization is in “early days” of a preliminary antitrust inquiry into Amazon’s business practices, questioning whether it uses the data it gathers from small merchants on its marketplace platform for its own advantage. The commissioner said merchants have been asked to complete a questionnaire “so we can understand this issue in full.”

Vestager stressed that the regulatory agency has neither “formally opened the case” nor arrived at any conclusions.

There’s reason for Amazon to be concerned about these first steps, as the antitrust group—under Vestager’s guidance—has shown its willingness to hold the biggest tech firms accountable, bringing a record $5 billion fine against Google this summer, investigating Apple’s purchase of music-identification app, Shazam, and asking the iPhone maker to pay $15 billion in back taxes.

“Sometimes for businesses competition can be inconvenient,” Vestager said during a TED Talk in New York City last September. “Because competition means that the race is never over.”