Robots, on-demand knitting and smart shelves: Welcome to the future of shopping

As shoppers spend more of their dollars online, the store is taking a cue from the web.

At the National Retail Federation's annual convention in New York City this week, technology firms offered a peek at what consumers can expect to see in the stores of the future.

While some of these innovations are being tested in real-world environments, others are merely a glimpse at what could be possible down the road. In both cases, they provide hints at the ways retailers are hoping to bring excitement back into their stores.

"They view this as, I have to take a risk to save my business," Jim Prewitt, vice president of JDA Software's retail industry strategy, told CNBC.

One of the buzziest technologies shown looks to satisfy customers' craving for more unique merchandise. The partnership between Intel and Shima Seiki, a company that makes knitting machines for factories, allows consumers to customize their own apparel and have it created on the spot.

Shima Seiki and Intel partnered for an on-demand knitting machine that creates custom designs in 45 minutes.
Krystina Gustafson | CNBC
Shima Seiki and Intel partnered for an on-demand knitting machine that creates custom designs in 45 minutes.

By first designing a sweater or pair of pants on a screen powered by Intel, the creation is knitted in just 45 minutes. Ministry of Supply, a Boston-based clothing line, is installing the technology so that shoppers can design custom-knit blazers.

Joe Jensen, general manager of Intel's retail solutions division, said the technology could also be used to swiftly restock a product that sold out, as it eliminates the need for overseas shipping.

"If you end up selling a model of sweater that goes really [fast], you can keep making it here," he said.

Along with on-demand production, virtual and augmented reality were two major themes at the show. Firms demonstrated how these technologies could be used to merchandise shelves, or help shoppers envision themselves in a certain dress.

Gap showcased the app it's been working on with Google, DressingRoom by Gap. The augmented reality app allows customers to select one of five body types, and see how the brand's merchandise would fit on their frame.

Though the technology is still in early stages, it will be available at the end of the month for people who have Google's Tango on their mobile devices.

Given recent news about Amazon Go, several firms that were showcasing technologies aimed at eliminating checkout were getting attention.

In May, an Irish technology firm called Everseen will launch 0Line at Ireland's largest retailer. Like Amazon Go, the technology uses a network of cameras and sensors to track which items customers grab. As shoppers are about to leave the store, they'll receive a receipt on their phone. They'll then click a red or green button indicating whether the order tally is correct.

"People want to get in and get out fast," Alan O'Herlihy, founder of Everseen, told CNBC.

Skip, a phone app that lets customers skip the checkout, was back at Microsoft's booth. That technology allows customers to scan their groceries as they go, and pay through their device. Shoppers are then subject to an audit as they exit the store (similar to Costco). Skip is being tested by regional grocery store Macey's, out of Utah.

Robots and Chatbot communication systems were also of interest. Pepper, a humanoid robot created by Softbank that uses software from JDA Labs, can sense when a shopper walks up. Pepper asks the customer what they need help with, can notify them if a store has an item in their size, and if not, refer them to the nearest location that does. Pepper is still in the research and development phase.

Pepper, a humanoid robot created by JDA Labs and Softbank, helps shoppers with customer service requests.
Krystina Gustafson | CNBC
Pepper, a humanoid robot created by JDA Labs and Softbank, helps shoppers with customer service requests.

In a nod to the internet's ever-changing prices, several vendors showcased technologies that bring dynamic pricing into the real world. Powershelf, a system powered by Microsoft, uses sensors to detect what inventory is on the shelf. Then, if a store is out of Gatorade Fruit Punch, for example, the shelf can automatically lower the price on the brand's orange and lemon-lime flavors, since customers didn't have all the options available. Whole Foods uses this technology at 40 of its stores.