If you’d like to see less of your Sears
repairman, rest assured, the feeling is mutual.
The venerable (but unprofitable) department store, which is the single largest seller of home appliances in the U.S. and installed 4.5 million of them last year, recently opened a new technology center in Seattle. One of its mandates? Mine data gleaned from the tens of millions of visits that Sears technicians have made to American homes over decades to more effectively diagnose a problem that an air-conditioning unit or dishwasher is having—well before a service call is made.
That’s right: The Sears repairman, clad in his royal-blue shirt, is as valuable a data vehicle as a cookie stored in your web browser. With 7,000 technicians, Sears is the biggest repair service in the country, visiting 8 million homes a year. Its technicians have catalogued hundreds of millions of records, taking note of the location, model, and make—Sears services a wide array of brands, not just its own 102-year-old Kenmore line—on each visit, so its diagnostic technology can calculate the complexity of a repair as well as a cost and time estimate.
The upside of that data crunching? A reduction in the number of times Sears must dispatch technicians, saving the retailer a nice chunk of change at a time when its sales are flagging, sparing customers a lot of aggravation, and helping it snatch away business from competing repair services. Industrywide, service calls fix the problem on the first visit 75% of the time; Sears’ lofty goal is to get that to a 95% resolution rate. (The company won’t disclose its current rate, saying only that it is above average.)
“How do we leverage the data we have and our digital experience to disrupt a pretty sleepy industry?” asks Arun Arora, a former Staples
executive who now oversees home appliances and services for Sears. “We’re going to use the digital backbone and data we have that we have not uniquely taken advantage of.”
Its new facility also gives Sears a plum spot in the emerging market for smart home tech and services, something that fits well into CEO Eddie Lampert’s strategy to revive the retailer and reinvent it by turning it into—what else?—more of a technology company.
A version of this article appears in the July 1, 2015 issue of Fortune magazine.