Can Alexa-enabled air conditioners halt Sears’ death spiral?

Sears is selling Kenmore appliances on Amazon.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?

In what might be the first good news for department store brand Sears in years, its appliance brand Kenmore is now available on Amazon, including smart air conditioners with Alexa integration.

The Kenmore Smart appliances available on Amazon as of launch also include washing machines and microwaves, but only the air conditioners appear to boast the Alexa capability as of July 20.

Sears says this marks the broadest distribution of its home appliance brand outside of Sears stores and online retail platforms.

The Kenmore Smart air conditioners with Alexa range in price from $379.99 to $739.99.

According to the Amazon product description, the air conditioner features a Smart AC app that lets consumers connect their smartphones to turn the AC on and off, change the temperature, set schedules and control modes and fan speeds. It also says the AC works with Alexa via the Kenmore Smart skill, but it was not immediately clear what this skill does beyond the ability to ask Alexa to set the desired temperature.

Sears said its Kenmore distribution on Amazon will expand to include the full line of Kenmore appliances in US market segments, but it was also not clear if the additional appliances will be Alexa-enabled.

However, in a statement, Charlie Kindel, director of the Alexa Smart Home at Amazon, indicated Alexa-enabled Kenmore washing machines could be next.

"Voice is a natural interface for the smart home, so we're thrilled that customers can now simply ask Alexa to interact with their Kenmore Smart appliances,” Kindel said. “We're excited that Kenmore has added Alexa functionality to these products and we think customers will love the convenience of cooling their home, starting their laundry, and more, using only their voice."

Sears shares jumped nearly 20% after the news, marking perhaps a glimmer of hope for the one-time appliance giant. In fact, Kenmore itself says it was in nearly one in three American homes in the early 2000s.

A 2014 story from Forbes, however, pointed to the “relative indifference” of millennials toward the Kenmore brand as just one of Sears’ problems in more recent history.

Just last month, Sears said it was closing even more stores, reportedly bringing its count to about 1180, down from 2073 five years ago.

Sears' Kenmore brand got its start in 1913 with sewing machines and quickly expanded to laundry, vacuum cleaners and more. In 1969, former US president Harry Truman purchased a Kenmore washing machine, the brand said. And by 1995, 25% of the major appliances sold in the US were Kenmore.

It is perhaps ambitious to suggest Kenmore may once again reach this lofty height, but, in a release, chief executive Edward Lampert said, “We continuously look for opportunities to enhance the reach of our iconic brands to more customers and create additional value from our assets. The launch of Kenmore products on Amazon.com will significantly expand the distribution and availability of the Kenmore brand in the US.”

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