Buying 16,000 brand-new Apple tablet computers for its employees might not seem like the conventional move for a company that’s in the middle of closing over 100 stores, but that’s just what Sears said that it will be doing in an effort to upgrade the retail chain’s operations.

Bloomberg News reported this week that Sears Holding Corp., which has seen its stock plummet from over $45 a share to just under $32 since announcing a week ago that it will close some 120 stores, has plans to distribute some 5,000 iPads and 11,000 iPod touch devices to employees to track inventory and customer orders, part of a last-ditch plan to modernize its business.

Sears, the largest U.S. department store (Sears Corp. also operates K-Mart stores), isn’t the first big-name company to provide its workers with tablets. We’ve reported here at the Smart Van that the iPad was recently approved by the FAA for in-flight use, as well as news that Macy’s is testing tablets in its stores and on delivery routes, and we’ve discussed Coca-Cola’s unorthodox use of iPads to boost worker efficiency. However, the news of the Sears move is certainly something for people in the field service business to keep an eye on.

According to Bloomberg, Sears CEO Lou D’Ambrosio, who was formerly at Avaya Inc. and International Business Machines Corp., is attempting to gather more data and information about customers’ product preferences and buying patterns, saying, “Everything starts with knowing what our customers want to buy and how and then delivering that across platforms.”

With 17 million visits by Sears technicians to customers’ homes each year, there’s certainly plenty of information for iPad-wielding technicians to draw on. Whether or not this initiative will revive the iconic store, which has steadily lost customers to online retailers and other big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy, remains to be seen. While those retailers tend to focus more on low prices, massive selection and electronics, respectively, Sears has always been more about tools and appliances — things that need fixing, in other words — than small electronics or clothes.

Its Craftsman tools and Kenmore appliances are in toolkits and homes across the country, and Sears relies on those brands — and the technicians that fix them — to support its business. Although much has been made lately of the company’s lackluster in-store experience, it would appear the company is betting that its out-of-store experience, driven by technicians armed with cutting-edge technological tools, can help bring the once-proud retailer back to prominence.