Kenmore: Just another brand or yet another scam?

Sears is a popular place to buy appliances because they are located all over the country, they frequently have special offers, and they are an old, familiar name. When you stroll through the rows of shiny machines in a Sears store you see all the major brands, including lots of Kenmores. Does buying this "Sears brand" have any downside for the consumer? Ya sure, ya betcha!

Although there are still a few folks who haven't gotten the memo yet, most people understand that there ain’t no Kenmore factory in Malaysia or some place. The Kenmore “factory” is several floors in an office building where corporate bureaucrats from Sears schmooze with other corporate bureaucrats from real manufacturing companies, like Whirlpool or Electrolux or LG, and get them to make their stuff for them and slap a Kenmore label on it.

"So what?" you say, "I like Sears and I don't mind spending my money with them." Well, there's more. Check this out and see if you still feel so sure…

Kenmore is essentially a marketing gimmick that Sears uses to sell you appliances at a higher profit margin. The Kenmore game is this: sell you a Kenmore-branded appliance, sell you an extended warranty on the appliance or, even if you don't buy the extended warranty, get you to call them when (not if) it breaks, and to sell you replacement parts and accessories for the appliance. It's a complete package designed to keep you on the Kenmore plantation, spending your money exclusively with Sears.

This wouldn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as you are aware of this scheme and a willing participant, if there weren't other downsides to Sears inserting themselves between the customer and the original equipment manufacturer ("OEM") of the appliance.

Downside No. 1: Information Blockade

It is difficult if nigh on impossible to cross over the Kenmore model number to that of the OEM's version of the same machine. This means if you or an independent servicer would like to work on your Kenmore machine, you cannot easily access the manufacturer's service bulletins or manuals, which may leave you at the mercy of Sears "service." Most people don't like to limit their options that way, particularly given Sear's service reputation. More on that below…

Downside No. 2: Stuck with Sears for Warranty Issues

When you buy a Kenmore machine and it needs warranty service, it will be performed by Sears rather than the local independent servicers who usually handle warranty work for the manufacturers. How bad this is for customers varies from place to place, but in my considerable experience in dealing with folks who have been in this situation, they have had much less frustration in dealing with an OEM company compared to Sears for warranty issues.

Are they really that bad?

Sears has a reputation for slow, inconvenient scheduling and ill-trained technicians who frequently don't get the repair done correctly. OEM companies, on the other hand, tend to be much more interested in keeping their customers happy by dealing with problems promptly and fairly. We are drawing on years of feedback from customers, but, of course, your mileage may vary.

Bottom line: Sears is the only entity that really benefits from the Kenmore brand. There are no actual upsides for the customer (compared to buying an OEM brand), but there are significant potential downsides when your appliance needs to be serviced.

What to do? 

Buy an OEM appliance. If you like shopping at Sears for some reason, they do offer OEM machines that you can choose. Assuming you don't fall for, er, I mean opt for, the extended warranty, then any warranty issues would be handled through the manufacturer and their local authorized servicer. And when service is needed after the warranty period, you will have many more options for service since you won't be subject to the Kenmore Information Blockade.

The Appliance Guru

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