Like many Americans, I have my cherished Craftsman tools and Kenmore appliances from the US retailer Sears. However, how many Americans know that Sears now also sells big data services as well?
Sears is a well known US department store that had started off as a successful mail order catalog business in 1888, selling to rural farmers who had a hard time getting into town to purchase equipment and supplies. About 125 years later, Sears has become a big $40 billion enterprise in North America, diversifying into a chain of department stores (including Kmart and Lands End), with entries into financial services (Allstate insurance, real estate, brokerages, and credit cards). However, Sears’ recent years have been troubled, with competition from e-commerce giants like Amazon.com as well as traditional discount retailers such as Walmart and Target. As a result, the Sears Holding Corporation had a net loss of over $3 billion in 2011.
However, Sears is currently getting a big data transformation. In 2012, the net loss had shrunk to $930 million. Sears is working hard at becoming profitable again. Part of the strategy from Sears executives is to leverage Hadoop and big data analytics for the corporate turnaround. In a recent article on Ad Age, writer Kate Kaye wrote about how the Sears internal data scientists use data from 100 million customers to determine pricing strategies and targeted marketing offers. The centerpiece of the Sears data strategy appears to be leveraging Hadoop for its data infrastructure for speedier access to the massive amounts of data that the retailer collects.
Sears is confident that its data strategy will allow it to become competitive again. In fact, Sears is so confident of its data abilities that it has started a new business called MetaScale to sell big data consulting and managed data services to other businesses. MetaScale offers analytics-as-a-service (including platforms Teradata, Netezza, and Greenplum) as well as full Hadoop managed data services at its 43,000 square foot computer room. The MetaScale CEO/CTO Philip Shelley is frequently on the speaking circuit for MetaScale, such as webinars with DataMeer as well as at the Hadoop Summit conference in San Jose. MetaScale aims to become a thought-leader in the business application of Hadoop.
Will leveraging big data be enough to save Sears? Personally, I hope they will succeed. Big data provides so many opportunities for businesses to become more efficient, to transform businesses to become more relevant to customers, and to provide new revenue streams for those who have the foresight to utilize it. Those who have the ability and motivation to leverage Hadoop and big data analytics before those technologies become mainstream will gain a competitive advantage like Sears, or at least keep up with their competitors.