Sears gives Home Services technology reboot

From its new Seattle office, the engineering team at Sears Home Services is out to upgrade the technology supporting the entire operation from the consumer interface to the back-end infrastructure.

The office officially opened this week, and executives there discussed some of what they are working on with the media. The team has its roots in the technology world. It is led by two former Amazon executives: Ian Clarkson, the COO and head of product and technology, and Heidi Robinson, VP of digital customer experience. They report to Arun Arora, senior VP and president of Home Services at Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD). 

Sears is creating ways to make technicians' and customers' lives easier by mining 50 years of home services data, reported the Puget Sound Business Journal. The goal is to craft a system that understands the customer's repair issue, notifies the technician of exactly what parts they will need, and advises the customer on how long the repair will take. While the industry standard is that 75 percent of repairs are performed successfully on the first try, Sears hopes to reach 95 percent using the latest data mining techniques.

"To solve the problem is to pre-diagnose the problem," Clarkson said.

The competition in the home services business is increasing. It includes startups Porch and, as well as Amazon, which launched Amazon Home Services in March, GeekWire reported.

Sears is unique because it employs 7,500 service technicians across the country. While other companies are creating marketplaces where consumers connect with outside service providers, Sears is able to engineer a complete system, down to the routing system that technicians use to find houses.

"We can own the solution end-to-end," Robinson told GeekWire. "We own our destiny end-to-end, and we have to solve all parts of that to make it work really well for the customer."

Digital technologies have transformed everything from taxis to airlines, Arora said, but that hasn't happened yet in home services and appliance repair. "The idea that this team could change that is the premise of this office. So for us, this is a really bold move. As the industry leader, it affords us certain options of scale. We can act like a startup and behave like a big company all in the same breath."

The office itself mixes Sears' product heritage with the milieu of the tech industry. There is an open floor plan, surrounded by conference rooms with names like "The Washer," "The Oven," "The Fridge" and "The Microwave."

The focus on tech innovation represents a change in the company's image as a traditional retailer, but Sears executives believe the company can overcome any image discrepancies in the minds of consumers by delivering a superior service over time.

"The answer is, you deliver something that's amazing," Clarkson said. "I'm not going to get on the top of the building and say, 'Look, now Sears is innovating.' You need to actually deliver something against that promise."

For more:
-See this Puget Sound Business Journal article
-See this GeekWire article

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