Weight Watchers Is Struggling To Survive In The Digital Age

The 52-year-old weight-loss pioneer is attempting to reinvent itself on your smartphone. It isn’t easy
Craig Gapter has belonged to Weight Watchers on and off for 16 years — “starting from when everything was pen and paper” — and credits it with having helped him shed 30 pounds. This fall, the 45-year-old Coloradan signed up for the online-only version of the food- and fitness-tracking program for the same reason so many others have done the same: Life is busy, and they’re already online all the time anyway.
But starting on Thanksgiving, the most food-crazed holiday of the year, an app upgrade caused a rash of glitches that prevented Gapter and many other paying customers from using it. Hundreds have taken to Weight Watchers’ Facebook page to complain. “This is a large company that has a huge number of followers or members, and I just think that they just did not think this through,” Gapter told BuzzFeed News. “That’s been my biggest disappointment. I just feel like they were like, ‘You do what you want, you go on your way.’”
When Weight Watchers was founded in 1963, it was a pioneer. Today, it’s a $1.3 billion global empire with nothing less than Oprah’s seal of approval. But its Thanksgiving stumble may be the latest indicator that the brand is struggling to hang on to consumers in a sea of slick, free food-and fitness-tracking apps.
The app upgrade was a prelude to a brand-new points system that Weight Watchers unveiled this month, designed to shift the program’s focus away from weight loss alone and help users take a more comprehensive approach to eating, exercising, and living healthfully. Executives hope the new program will provide a much-needed boost after a few years of declining revenue.
But not all customers immediately loved the new system. Some criticized the company for not explaining it well, and others were still experiencing glitches as of this week. Their discontent reflects a broader dissatisfaction with Weight Watchers’ digital presence: Online subscriptions fell more than 20% between the beginning of 2013 and early October 2015, from 1.87 million to 1.47 million.

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