WW (NASDAQ:WTW), the former Weight Watchers International, has slimmed down investor portfolios recently. Shares of the weight-loss and wellness center have lost 70% of their value after hitting an all-time high last summer, and analysts don't see things improving.
With fourth-quarter earnings set to be reported on Tuesday, Feb. 26, here's the skinny on what investors should look for when those numbers hit.
Bulking up membership rolls
The transformation from a weight-loss business to a more generic wellness center doesn't seem to be sitting well with consumers, who are apparently leaving the service in large numbers. While third-quarter membership rose 25% from the year-ago period, hitting 4.2 million, that's actually lower than the 4.5 million members WW recorded in the second quarter, which itself was below the 4.6 million Wall Street had been forecasting.
Analysts at JPMorgan Chase downgraded the stock in January and again in February, after finding that some analytics websites discovered that U.S. daily active users of WW's website plunged 35% from the beginning of the second quarter through Feb. 15. There has also been mounting criticism of WW's app due to connectivity and login issues, and there is growing competition from other weight-loss apps like Noom and dietdoctor.com. The analyst also cited a lack of people signing up after the new year despite January and February typically being prime months for new members due to New Year's resolutions.
The move to mobile
Although WW's mobile app has generated negative reviews, it is likely the company's move to a digital platform is taking a toll on its primary business. When dieters -- wellness seekers? -- can watch their caloric intake, count points, and monitor their overall health and well-being on their smartphone, there's little need to attend meetings or even sign up for WW's services.
That's a big problem, because subscriptions reportedly account for 80% of its revenue. And though WW has long been about educating its members on making healthy food choices, many believe its offering of meal kits, both its own and those through its partnership with Blue Apron, undermine that value.
Change for the sake of change
How much WW's declining fortunes have been brought about by its rebranding from Weight Watchers to WW is likely unknowable, but when you assume a mantle that's both all-encompassing and generic at the same time, as "wellness" is, you undermine decades' worth of brand building -- and that has to cost something. CEO Mindy Grossman doesn't seem to be sure what WW means. Rather than broadening its umbrella of appeal, WW may have snapped it closed.
The challenge is whether WW can build wellness as a platform. Because it does offer a wealth of knowledge, programs, courses, and data, that ought to be possible, but it was Oprah Winfrey's investment in Weight Watchers that brought in a lot of new customers -- and now she's pulled back her association with the company, focusing instead on other endeavors.
It was only because of Oprah that WW broke out of its slump four years ago, and it may be that it's entering another one without a big enough marquee name to serve as a catalyst. Kate Hudson just doesn't have the same cachet as Oprah, and now WW's embarked on a campaign that doesn't clearly define what it offers those looking to lose weight and get fit.
Investors should be prepared that WW's coming earnings report will hurt the value of their WW holdings.