Actual physical Sears stores might be gone in a decade, if the recent pattern of closures continues.
But a new deal with Amazon might ensure one of its signature product lines lives on – and could serve as a life raft for the company as a whole.
Sears' Kenmore products will now be sold on Amazon.com, the company announced Thursday, with the delivery, installation and maintenance of the appliances handled on the ground by Sears' own businesses.
You'll be able to talk to your washer
They won't all be standard Kenmore appliances.
There will be an entire line of Kenmore Smart products – able to communicate with your Wi-Fi connected household, and controllable with Amazon's Alexa voice commands.
For example, with a smart air conditioner (the first Kenmore product available through this partnership) you'd be able to say, "Hey Alexa, set my Kenmore Smart air conditioner to 68 degrees" without getting up from the couch or putting down your phone.
The exact products coming out aren't specified, but Charlie Kindel with Amazon said in the announcement customers will love the ability to start laundry with Alexa voice commands. (Though as far as we know, Alexa doesn't have the ability to actually pick up your dirty clothes from the closet floor and put them into the washer for you, so that's too bad.)
Kenmore also has a smart water softener, smart water heater, and smart fridge.
This is a big deal for Sears
As Benzinga points out, Sears (which also owns Kmart) has been in a tough spot – cutting costs and taking on high-interest loans to stay afloat.
Which makes this deal with Amazon big. As Sears notes, this is the broadest distribution of Kenmore appliances outside of Sears itself.
Sears started back in the late 1880s, when Richard Sears was working in Redwood Falls, Minnesota, as a railway agent. He bought a batch of unwanted watches from someone for cheap, then flipped them at a profit – eventually openings the R.W. Sears Watch Company in Minneapolis in 1886.
The next year he moved to Chicago and business blossomed for decades.
In 2000, Sears had a total of 863 mall-based retail stores, plus 1,200 other retail outlets. That's plummeted in recent years – down to 695 physical locations to start 2017. There are now just 34 Sears locations in Minnesota.