December 20, 2014

Kenmore’s Talking Appliances

Last February, Mel Bonner, 63, of Tinley Park, Ill., noticed water beneath his washing machine. He couldn’t find a leak, so he dialed the manufacturer’s customer service number. Then he held the receiver up and let the machine do the “talking.”

The washer was “beeping, and lights [were] flashing” as it transmitted self-diagnostic data, says Bonner, a retired electrician. When the telephone representative couldn’t figure out the problem, a technician was dispatched to Bonner’s home. The technician “didn’t know what was wrong” when he arrived, says Bonner, “but he knew what wasn’t wrong.” The washing machine was working properly again in less than half an hour. “It was just so simple,” says Bonner. “I don’t know why everybody doesn’t have this.”

Kenmore has unveiled a set of washers and dryers that can speak to technicians, at least over the phone. The appliances, called the Kenmore Elite washer and dryer series, use a technology called Kenmore Connect to speak. Through Kenmore Connect, a machine will send real time diagnostic information to a technician over a phone line.

Once this information is received, the technician can help the consumer fix the problem. The machines don’t speak via a conventional speech synthesizer; the sounds are digitally coded and come out as beeps and something that sounds like noise.

Kenmore said technicians use 100 different data points derived from the Kenmore Connect transmission. This includes air and water temperatures, cycle times and spin speeds. The data points can point to the status of certain electrical and mechanical sub-systems or reveal the mechanical issue with the error code.

The talking appliance is not only convenient for the user, but for Kenmore as well. It allows the company to reduce the amount of time it spends fixing appliances in someone’s house.

“The majority of service calls during the first year of ownership can be rectified by educating new owners over the phone once we have a deep understanding of the question at hand thanks to the information being sent from their Kenmore appliance directly to our experts via the phone.”

Kenmore said it conducted field testing earlier in the year. The initial results from these tests showed the talking significantly reduced the number of customers that needed an in-home repair.

Bonner was one of several thousand customers in a pilot program to test the remote-servicing technology.  LG plans to add the feature to many of its top-of-the-line laundry appliances in the U.S.

Black Friday Appliance Sales Results

Major appliances have never been a traditional holiday gift category, and as such have always taken a back seat to electronics, apparel and home fashions in the pantheon of Black Friday promotions.

All that began to change last year when Sears offered an Electrolux front-load laundry pair for $600 the morning after Thanksgiving. This year, following one of the most challenging periods in recent white-goods memory, appliance offers came fast and furious on Black Friday, rivaling consumer electronics doorbusters in sales.

Apparently the ploy was effective: According to comparison shopping service PriceGrabber.com, sales of laundry pairs, one of the most heavily discounted categories of the holiday weekend, rose 70 percent on Black Friday compared with 2008.

One of the biggest major appliance blowouts was mounted by The Home Depot, which offered deep discounts on LG and Whirlpool’s Amana- and Maytag-branded products. Holiday specials included the high-efficiency Maytag Bravos 4.7-cubic-foot top-load washer and companion dryer for $499 each, down from $799 and $699, respectively, and a 19.7-cubic-foot LG French-door refrigerator, in white, for $798, down from $1,199.

Whirlpool was also front-and-center at Lowe’s on Black Friday, where $998 bought a 4-cubic-foot Duet front-load or Cabrio high-efficiency 4.7-cubic-foot top-load laundry pair, and $898 fetched a 25-cubic-foot French-door fridge in black or white (regularly $1,298).

New York metro area appliance titan P.C. Richard & Son was equally aggressive, offering $1,000 Samsung and Whirlpool front-load laundry pairs, both with 4-cubic-foot washers, and a 3.1-cubic-foot front-load Frigidaire washer and companion dryer for just $500.

But the day still belonged to Sears, which leveraged its private-label Kenmore brand to follow up last year’s Black Friday offering with a 3.5-cubic-foot front-load laundry pair for $580, a 23-cubic-foot French door fridge for $750, and a 4.7-cubic-foot high-efficiency Kenmore Elite Oasis laundry pair for $850. All were advertised as 50 percent or more off from Sears’ regular prices, but shoppers were warned that inventory was limited to only about two SKUs per model per store.
You can read this whole story at Twice.com