Technology that could help retailers identify in-store customers by analysing their footwear is in development at University College London (UCL).

A postgraduate student at the university has been awarded seed funding by the institution to develop a new device which he says will provide a comprehensive, real-time picture of customers in a shop, using a small camera and image recognition technology.

Owen McCormack, who is 29 and is completing a Master's degree in Computer Science at UCL, is working on a system that analyses customers' footwear to make assumptions about the gender, demographic and social class of people making purchases in-store.

With consumer privacy concerns still existing over a number of facial recognition systems currently being trialled by retailers, the shoe-analytics technology could provide similar personal profiling while avoiding the use of biometrics.

McCormack's company, Hoxton Analytics, is marketing the patent-pending device by informing retailers that they could also use the technology to optimise different stores through tailoring advertising, promotions, displays and stock to specific consumer profiles.

The tool could be used by department stores, airports, train stations and shopping malls to map the types of consumers most likely to visit different locations.

"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," explained McCormack.

"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."

The postgraduate, has worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers and trained as a chartered financial analyst, received total funding of £5,000 for his idea as part of UCL's Bright Ideas Awards, which is a programme designed to help entrepreneurial students.

Former CEO of Best Buy International and now MetaPack chairman, Bob Willett, recently told Essential Retail that there is "a huge opportunity from a technology perspective" for retailers to improve customer service levels by monitoring in-store shopper behaviour. Various solutions of this nature were on show at this year's RBTE in London, suggesting more in-store analytic tools could be set to enter the retail technology market in the coming months.