If you're still looking for proof that the connected home is going mainstream, consider that Sears--one of the nation's oldest and largest retailers--just opened a 4000-square-foot store-within-a-store staffed by personnel trained to demonstrate nearly every component you'd need to build out a smart home.
The flagship store is located inside a larger Sears store in San Bruno, California, midway between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It's set up like a typical home--complete with a bedroom, kitchen, living room, nursery, fitness room, garage, patio, and front entrance--where employees can demonstrate products designed for each space.
You'll find wireless entry locks in the front-entrance area, for instance, and Wi-Fi baby monitors in the nursery. Products such as streaming boxes and smart TVs are in the living room, while network-connected garage door openers are in the garage. Sears also sells routers, smart-home hubs, lighting systems, and more. The store has 1000 products in inventory.
"We're trying to move this space beyond the early adopter and into the mainstream," said Sears' President of Consumer Electronics and Connected Solutions Ryan Ciovacco.
When I asked why Sears decided to go with off-the-shelf products as opposed to offering its own private-label solution, a la Lowes' Iris, Ciovacco replied "A home-improvement store can sell you the lighting controls or the smart thermostat, but not the tablet or smartphone you'll need to interact with the system. We're able to play well across all the channels. Take home energy efficiency. It's not just the programmable thermostat, it's also the windows, the air conditioner, and so on. It's being able to offer a complete solution."
Why this matters: Sears is about as mainstream as it gets. While the retailer is much smaller than it was in its heyday, it owns a number of very strong brands--including Craftsman and Kenmore--and it has brick-and-mortar stores just about everywhere in the country.
Equally as important, Sears has a nationwide network of technicians that can install smart-home devices in customers' homes at reasonable rates. Hard-core DIYers will scoff at the idea of hiring someone else to set up their smart homes, but the more mainstream connected-home systems become, the less they'll cost for all of us. And the tech support Sears is offering its customers could mean fewer friends and family members pestering you for the same.
Trained tech support and optional installation
Employee expertise, installation services, and tech support are other areas in which Ciovacco said Sears will differentiate itself from competitors such as Lowes and Best Buy. Sales associates are trained in how disparate products can work together, whether it be something as complex as a Vera home-control hub or as simple as writing IFTTT recipes.
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