Researchers have developed software that will enable fashion retailers to immediately offer similar products but from rival brands to shoppers while they are browsing and window shopping at competitors. 

The Imperial College spin-out company Cortexica replicates the way that the eye and the brain have worked together to recognise patterns over millions of years of evolution.

A shopper outside a competitor retailer, for example, could use an app offered by a fashion retailer to visually check for similar items at its store by taking a picture of the garment on the camera built in to their smartphone.

The Cortexica "find similar" software mimics the way the brain processes images and finds similarities. An image of a dress, a blouse or a shirt, for example, is analysed by the software and images of available items are returned with similar characteristics, such as colour, pattern and design. Shoppers can then buy the item immediately.
 
Cortexia CEO Iain McCready said: "'Find similar' has eluded software designers for years and we are delighted to have achieved this major breakthrough. It is a bit like putting your own shop assistant into a competitor's store. We think this has the potential to change market dynamics in fashion retailing."

Several UK fashion retailers are already testing the software which will be integrated into websites and mobile phone-based apps in the autumn ahead of the crucial pre-Christmas shopping season, the company said.

The software will also enable shoppers to take visual clues from other sources such as wallpaper or colour swatches and deliver appropriate results.
 
To develop the software, Cortexica's team of neuroscientists, visual search scientists and machine learning engineers have replicated the way that the eye and neurons interact when recognising and interpreting an image.

Cortexica already supplies software that finds identical items. eBay Motors has an app powered by Cortexica software that enables users to take a picture of the back of a car. The image is analysed instantly and cars that are available for sale via eBay are listed for the user to browse.