UCL backs student who’s developed technology to profile customers through analysing their shoes



A UCL postgraduate student has been awarded seed funding by the university to develop a new device which is able to provide a comprehensive picture of customers in a shop in real-time – through analysing people’s footwear.

The device, developed by Owen McCormack, – who is completing a Master’s degree in Computer Science at UCL – analyses customers’ footwear as they enter the story using a small camera and image recognition software, which he has developed specifically for the retail sector.

Through recognising different types of footwear, and analysing the size and shape of different styles of shoes, the device and software enables retailers to know in real-time the gender, demographic and social class of consumers in their store and to match this against purchase information.

Through Owen’s company, Hoxton Analytics, which is marketing the patent-pending device, it will be possible for retailers to rapidly optimise different stores through tailoring advertising, promotions, displays and stock to specific consumer profiles.

The technology also has strong potential for larger retail spaces such as department stores, airports, train stations and shopping malls, by enabling managers to more accurately map the types of consumers most likely to visit different locations and, through that, the value of different concessions.

The technology also aims to overcome concerns around facial-recognition technology, which could offer the same benefits but which, so far, has been greeted negatively by many consumers concerned with the infringement of their privacy. Instead, Hoxton Analytics offers the same benefits of customer profiling without these potential drawbacks.

McCormack started the company while completing an MSc in Computer Science at UCL focusing on big data, following a career as a manager at PwC in London and training as a chartered financial analyst.

He gained the funding – totaling £5,000 – for his idea as part of UCL’s Bright Ideas Awards, designed to enable students keen to start their own businesses to take the next step in making their ideas a reality.

His award has been announced as part of the seventh annual UCL Awards for Enterprise, which celebrate the exciting new business ideas of student and graduate entrepreneurs as well as showcasing the entrepreneurial activities of staff and sector-leading partnerships between UCL and the business community.

McCormack, founder of Hoxton Analytics, said: “Until now online retailers have been leading the pack in terms of their ability to track consumer behaviour and purchasing decisions, which is why I wanted to develop a product to enable offline retailers the chance to benefit from the possibilities the technology offers, too.

“The potential benefits to retailers are huge – giving the ability to tailor stock and in-store promotions to the demographic of consumers using any given store in almost real-time.”

Timothy Barnes, UCL’s director of enterprise operations, said: “Owen’s business has the prospect to make a significant impact on increasing profitability of the offline retail sector and to grow quickly, which is why we’re backing Hoxton Analytics with funding to give it the best possible chance to grow to its potential.”