Sears makes a big bet on the connected home

Look for smoke alarms, thermostats, lighting, and other home products you can control using your phone or tablet, and you'll find a selection at your local home center or even Staples. But if you also want to browse electronics, fitness trackers, and exercise equipment, you'll have to look elsewhere. Sears is hoping to be the go-to-place for “all of the above.”

The retailer initially told Consumer Reports of its plans to roll out store space in more than 200 stores in addition to one San Bruno, California, store in which it has devoted 3,900 square feet to a Connected Solutions department that’s organized like rooms of a home. Three other stores, in the Chicago area, will have smaller, 2,000-square-foot Connected Solutions departments.

The other stores won’t get such royal treatment, but for 200 selected stores, Sears will be adding a Connected Solutions section. You can find it adjacent to the electronics department, whose sales staff will be trained to answer questions on the smart products—for example, on product compatibility and installation.

In other Sears stores, many connected products can still be found but in the particular departments where they would be located if they're not connected, such as smoke alarms in the home products section. Sears has also given connected products their own space on Sears’ website. One lagging exception to the inventory—smart major appliances. GE, LG, Samsung, and Whirlpool offer smart functions with several models for remote monitoring and control plus easier diagnosis, but so far you'll only find remote-service diagnosis in the Kenmore line.

All bets are off, however, on what the increased focus on smart products might do to the overall bottom line. Not long after we attended a Manhattan demonstration of the Connected Solutions line, Sears Holdings released second-quarter figures that showed a more than 14-percent loss for its year-to-date domestic store sales.

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Consumer Reports has tested many connected products, some of which we grouped together in the report, “"Run your Home from your Phone." We continue to buy additional, similarly connected products and describe their additional functionality on the products’ individual model pages.

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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