NRF 2017 is just around the corner and soon Essential Retail will be boarding a plane to NYC for the annual gathering of the retail technology industry. But what is going to be hot at this year's NRF Big Show? Will it be virtual reality or robots lining the show floor? Or will the conference be buzzing about eCommere and chat bots or the future of the store? Take a read of our round-up of what the experts are predicting is going to be big this year. 

Kelly Miely, UK buying and merchandising lead at Deloitte

Retail technology you expect to dominate the show "Artificial intelligence and robotics, in particular applications for improved customer experience and operational efficiency."

Challenge most likely to be discussed: "The pace of change and how long-established retailers can evolve quickly to adapt to a changing customer and competitive base."

Most looking forward to: "I am looking forward to getting lost wandering around the exhibition floor, and I always look forward to bumping into clients and colleagues from the US and the UK in the lounge area."

Miya Knights, global technology research director, Planet Retail

Retail technology you expect to dominate the show "I expect to see more checkout-less shopping solutions to rival Amazon Go. For example, Dielbold Nixdorf is touting its ‘Extreme Self-checkout’ system. I also expect to see automated shopping carts and more shop-floor robots."

Challenge most likely to be discussed: "I would say modernising the store will be top of mind, as retailers realise most shopping journeys still actually involve a visit to the store at some point. This will include continued migration from paper-based POP materials to digital ones that can sync with staff mobile devices, and provide an extension to kiosks of old that offer endless aisle capabilities as well as additional product information.

Most looking forward to: "But what I’m really hoping to see is some interesting store-based tech that will capture retailer imaginations and change the customer’s shopping experience for the better in 2017."

Dave Abbott, retail omnichannel manager, The Dune Group

Retail technology you expect to dominate the show: "I expect from a store perspective there will be a lot of AR in-store tech, but it will be interesting if anyone has any good AI in-store solutions to make exciting customer journeys."

Challenge most likely to be discussed: "I think there will be a fair amount of a consistent push on live stock pictures as it is interesting how many retailers have nailed this, along with various SaaS solutions to replace existing systems. Customer delivery promise and the balance of cost vs customer expectation, will also likely be a theme."

Most looking forward to: "I’m looking forward to seeing exciting and new ways of making the customer journey in store more immersive, provide the customer and staff easily with more product information. Also, novel ways of making the online and offline experience even more seamless."

Alison Wiltshire, global practice lead, retail and consumer goods, BT

Retail technology you expect to dominate the show: "Any and all technologies associated with digital store transformation. I believe there will remain a strong focus on bricks and mortar."

Challenge most likely to be discussed: "Harnessing and integrating multiple sources of data to drive real actionable business insights helping retailers to deliver differentiated and seamless customer experience."

Most looking forward to: "There seemed to be some very cool tech coming out of the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that is relevant to retailers, and that drive the ultimate in-store experience. I’m hoping that some of these latest innovations will be at NRF as well."

Glynn Davis, founder, Retail Insider

Retail technology you expect to dominate the show: "I’m expecting robots all over. Dancing in the aisles."

Challenge most likely to be discussed: "And VR/AI will be present but I hope not gimmicky. Chatbots are sensible use of AI so I suspect we’ll see them being debated as retailers look to harness data."

Most looking forward to: "I also expect the usual plethora of random snacks in the press room. We need a ‘snack watch’ this year. However many gaps in your diary you leave, they seem to fill up at a rate only matched by the topping up of the snack table. And the beer of course. The Americans know how to make it."

Rob Garf, VP, industry strategy & insights, Demandware

Retail technology you expect to dominate the show "You'll see a lot of unified commerce, as retailers continue to demand solutions that consolidate the historically disparate data, applications, and process to effectively manage the consumer experience. This shouldn't be about vendors acquiring and integrating, but rather consolidating and simplifying to streamline business operations and personalise shopping experience."

Challenge most likely to be discussed: "The hyperbole of big data has transformed to the reality of artificial intelligence. You will hear a lot about how retailers, supported by emerging technology, make sense of consumer profiles, preferences, and shopping behaviour to personalise the experience across channels. AImust be deeply embedded into the shopping journey."

Most looking forward to: "Seeing more voice technologies. The days of swipe, click, and type will be supplanted by voice. Voice will be the user interface for shopping in the future."

Matt Bradley, event director, RBTE

Retail technology you expect to dominate the show: "I think there's going to be even more VR and IoT solutions showcased. I'm looking forward to trying out the latest virtual shopping experience. And I have a funny feeling there's going to be a massive push on supply chain."

Challenge most likely to be discussed: "I'm looking forward to hearing comparable stories from the US and UK market in the conference sessions, to see if we face similar challenges and how we can learn from each other."

Most looking forward to: "Wearing all my new winter clothes, all at the same time – like Joey from Friends – to tackle the minus temperatures. Although, I'm not looking forward to the excess baggage charge."

Clare McDonald, business editor, Computer Weekly

Retail technology you expect to dominate the show "Personalised augmented reality through customer devices."

Challenge most likely to be discussed: "How we can offer a personalised experience in-store, whilst tying in customer devices but without forcing consumers to download brand-specific applications."

Theme/challenge likely to be discussed: "Retailers have been very focused on omnichannel over the last few years, with some claiming they need to work together to continue to draw customers in. But as usual the consumer is expecting more and more from a retail experience – including better technology and innovative ways of offering personalisation. At NRF 2017 I expect to see a lot more of these new technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and robotics, showcased as part of the omnichannel experience. These technologies should be tied in to offering an individual experience for each consumer."

Ruth Harrison, director of retail strategy, ThoughtWorks

What is the retail technology you expect to dominate the show? "We're always going to see vendors providing new and updated solutions to typical tasks such as inventory, CRM and payment processes and I think we'll see some smart connected devices helping to solve these issues. Following the recent AmazonGo launch, I'm sure we'll see examples of visual product recognition and machine learning. Moving beyond cashier-less checkout, we're likely to see examples of the robot sales associate and how the instore shopping experience is becoming more digitally automated."

What is the challenge most likely to be discussed? "Five years from now retail will be unrecognisable from what we know it today. Department stores and malls will experience the greatest disruption. Retailers will have to relearn how to market and sell their wares, going to market with new formats, products and digital services. The biggest challenge facing retailers is how to plan for this uncertainty, when existing legacy systems, which are usually expensive to run and no longer provide flexibility, often bought or outsourced, this remains the biggest inhibitor to progress. We're seeing retailers seeking to position themselves for rapid innovation, flexibility and scalability, choosing to build their own platforms for growth."

What are you most looking forward to? "I'm looking forward to touring New York’s 10 most innovative stores. These are digitally enabled stores, offering experiential moments of delight, allowing consumers to be connected and in control. Let's be honest, we're all looking for retail to be exciting again. Oh, and there may also be a cocktail or two involved, I'm in NYC after all!"

Lee Armstrong, IBM Watson Commerce Leader UKI

What is the retail technology you expect to dominate the show? "At this year’s NRF, we’ll be looking for a range of retail innovations which will change the way retailers engage with their consumers and pervade new and relatively untouched industries. For example, mobility-inspired retail where commerce comes to the consumer from the seat of their car.  A big development this year will be the concept of the connected store - we all know that boundaries are blurring between channels, and consumers expect the same experience irrespective of whether they are on their mobiles, tablets or in the store - or even a combination. The digitised, connected store will integrate loyalty, engagement and payments through IBM Pay to allow consumers to integrate mobile and information into their physical shopping experience. The ability to search for and pay for goods in real-time will truly transform the physical store into a digital experience."

What is the challenge most likely to be discussed? "How can retail become more than a transaction? Today’s consumers expect their brands to be as responsible for content creation and engagement as traditional media outlets and as such, retailers are increasingly relying on a wealth of external information on prevailing trends, social media habits, influencer interactions and customer behaviour to be able to truly curate content, offers and an in-store experience to fit the needs of a segment of one. This is where AI really comes to the fore and will change the retail experience across channels and individual stores."

What are you most looking forward to? "Experience-led ideas - retailers are still pursuing that holy grail of the perfect customer understanding and an even better product understanding. We’ll be seeing weird and wonderful ways of approaching this nirvana and developments into experiential retail to truly foster engagement irrespective of the channel. We’re also expecting discussion on transforming business models at least from a fashion perspective- last year was the real-time runway, this year we’re seeing the rental runway. Could that be the true route to reducing the risk of counterfeit goods and making luxury goods even more accessible?"

Keep reading Essential Retail all next week for the latest news all the way from across the pond at NRF 2017.