Too Digital Too Late – While clients lost weight, Weight Watchers lost clients

What happens when the leader in weight loss fails to invest in digital technology? Weight Watchers made a costly mistake that is hurting the 50 year old brand

Weight Watchers is an international organization that helps customers lose weight by providing them with online support, programs, features, and tools. The subscription based product helps teach customers how to live healthy and active lives. Weight Watchers is continuously working on developing new and innovative programs to help their customers receive better results faster! Founded in the 1960’s, the company has grown from a group of friends looking for a support group to a global platform to promote a healthy lifestyle. Also, the brand is well known, trusted, and respected. [1]

A legacy under review

In 2013, Weight Watchers celebrated its 50th anniversary, but the well-known and trusted brand was repeatedly losing profits and failed to follow the industry trend towards digital applications [2]. From an operational perspective, Weight Watchers’ foundation is built on support groups, which developed into online forums and chats, but the company failed to jump on the digital bandwagon which ultimately resulted in the loss of customers to free digital apps and active bracelets and watches. [3]

The effects of Weight Watcher’s delay in entering the digital app market led the company to hire Dan Crowe as Chief Technology Officer to help provide a new light and direction. [4]

It’s time to join the digital world!

When Dan Crowe took over as CTO, he knew that the priority was to bring Weight Watches up to speed and to compete in the mobile app arena. In 2014 the Weight Watchers app was launched. The app, which can be integrated with iOS 8 and Apple HealthKit, contained several features that link not only to other apps and devices such as Fitbit and Jawone, but also to the user’s online account. [4]

Key features included the capturing and measuring of data and converting that data into Weight Watchers points. Also, members could use the app to track what they are eating as well as their exercise patterns.

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Reactions to the digital launch

A year following the launch of the app, profits continued to decline. Researches continued to innovate with digital technology, but in my opinion there were two main factors that contributed to the poor results post launch. The first was that Weight Watches was significantly late to the market. By 2015 free fitness, diet, and healthy living apps were in abundance. Also, the market was expanding toward wearable fitness devices. The second factor was that the app was poorly rolled out. In addition to multiple glitches and user interfacing issues, only a handful of app features were accessible to non-Weight Watcher subscribers [8].

Two years following the 2013 launch, a revamped digital app and a new spokeswoman, Oprah, were another attempt to increase profits. Unfortunately, customers continued to have complaints about the user friendliness and reliability of the app. Compared to the same period in 2015, subscriptions fell by 4.8% [7].

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Despite its late arrival to the digital market, Weight Watches is a leader in weight loss services. The CEO James Chambers best stated the upcoming challenges that the company faces:

“Weight Watchers misjudged the long game trend in the market and now finds itself playing catch-up as a legacy providers of services and products.

On the plus side, it has a 50 year plus brand; on the negative side, it’s got an old, established business model and culture that’s going to be hard to shift.” [6]

New Digital Innovations

Moving forward, Weight Watchers will and should continue to innovate via the app and web space. I would recommend reducing the glitches and finding a way to reach out to non-subscribers. Also, the company should continue experimentation with food delivery partners like Amazon fresh. The business model is to improve overall lifestyle, mental, and physical health. In this new day of mobile technology, Weight Watchers need to stage a comeback so that it’s digital position matches its brand legacy.

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References

  1. https://www.weightwatchers.com/us/
  2. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-02-14/weight-watchers-falls-as-profit-forecast-trails-estimates
  3. http://diginomica.com/2015/08/07/the-weight-of-digital-transformation-for-weight-watchers/
  4. http://www.informationweek.com/healthcare/patient-tools/weight-watchers-pursues-image-makeover/d/d-id/1315956
  5. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/weight-watchers-leverages-ios-8-and-healthkit-with-new-features-278028261.html 2014
  6. http://diginomica.com/2016/03/02/trimming-the-technology-fat-at-weight-watchers-as-the-oprah-factor-doesnt-kick-in/
  7. http://www.chicagotribune.com/bluesky/originals/ct-weight-watchers-tech-oprah-bsi-20160317-story.html
  8. https://www.lifewire.com/weight-watchers-mobile-app-review-1999987

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4 thoughts on “Too Digital Too Late – While clients lost weight, Weight Watchers lost clients

  1. Karyn- great blog!

    In my opinion, the health/fitness/wellness wearable devices and mobile apps have saturated the market. As you mentioned, there are so many products out there that do pretty much the same thing, so it is a pity that a) WW wasn’t able to see this big revolution coming and b) there is not much extra value (as far as we can see right now) that they can offer the customer by way of differentiation. I agree with you 100%- WW was too late when they did launch their mobile app, and in today’s world, users can very easily switch from one mobile app to another if they are unsatisfied with the first one (here, due to glitches or having to pay to access features). WW also needs to completely renovate the image of their brand, as I think they still appeal to an older audience, whereas companies nowadays are trying their best to appeal to millennials.
    From an operations standpoint, I like your idea of WW partnering with Amazon Fresh to deliver fresh produce to customers. I have a few more ideas-
    a) WW can partner with Blue Apron to provide low calorie/high fiber recipes to members of WW
    b) WW can also partner with Fitbit, to incentivize new members to join because they’ll get 50% off the latest Fitbit (??)
    c) In partnering with Fitbit, WW can randomly assign members of similar weights and ages to a group, so they can compete online in # of steps taken per day, to motivate them to lose weight through healthy competition, while establishing an online support community.

  2. Great post, thanks! One question I’m asking myself after reading it is whether WW really was just “too late”, or if they would have lost out to free/freemium models even if they had pursued a digital strategy early on. I know that WW used to tout that research indicates their in-person group support was a key driver of their participants’ success[1]. As a result, I imagine that failing to immediately go online wasn’t just a failed operational decision, but rather a strategic attempt to avoid suggesting that one could achieve results without attending meetings. Would there have been a way for them to successfully pursue an early full-efforts digital strategy without cannibalizing their core business? I’m not convinced that there would have been. Even if they had instituted an advanced digital subscription business with numerous social features early on, free alternatives still would have arisen and presumably taken customers away from their in-person meetings. Perhaps the in-person WW model was just destined to become obsolete in the digital age.

    [1] http://www.weightwatchers.com/images/1033/dynamic/GCMSImages/Topic%206%20LOW.pdf

  3. With so many different apps to choose from when it comes to having a healthier lifestyle, Weight Watchers’ only chance of survival is building on its reputation and brand awareness. Weight Watchers took too much time to enter the digital market, but I do not think it is impossible for it to recover. The company had a network of fans before the “digital era” and should leverage on that network to support its new app. In order to succeed, it is crucial for the app to be perfect – Weight Watchers should partner with tech firms who specialize in app design, and ensure its app is the best you can find in this sector. After that, it should continue to develop relationships with people like Oprah to help market this app. I am sure that previous Weight Watchers fans will be ready to support the company if its app is as good (or better) than competition!

  4. Thanks, Karyn – interesting post!

    I agree with Joana that Weight Watchers now finds itself in a challenging predicament – how to convey that its app is worth paying for in light of all the free options that exist, much like the situation that the NYT is facing. I think ultimately WW’s success in digital will rely on really strong partnerships with existing options that provide seamless connectivity for users. Start-ups could benefit immensely from partnering with WW – a company with such strong brand recognition.

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