3 Reasons Why Fitbit Is Not the Next GoPro

There are some painful similarities between where Fitbit (NYSE: FIT) is now and where GoPro (NASDAQ: GPRO) was a year ago. Fitbit took a hit recently after revealing an unexpected decline in sales over the telltale holiday quarter. The top dog in fitness trackers announced preliminary results with fourth-quarter revenue declining 18% to 20%, Fitbit's first decrease as a public company.

GoPro experienced the same thing a year earlier. The wearable-camera leader stunned investors with a brutal 31% plunge in sales over the 2015 holiday quarter, also GoPro's first year-over-year decline.

GoPro and Fitbit continue to be the undisputed champs in their markets, but the categories themselves have imploded. Both markets have been upended by the hotter mobile migration, as smartphones beef up their cameras and their health-tracking features. Fitbit has also been challenged by the popularity of smartwatches leaving many wrists spoken for, making it even harder to stand out. Margins are taking a beating in this climate. GoPro surprised investors with a loss during the 2015 holiday quarter, and now we know that Fitbit will follow suit.

Both stocks are already in the single digits, but obviously the downside doesn't end until we hit zero. Neither company is at its best right now, but let's go over a couple of reasons why Fitbit's downturn in 2017 may not be as severe as the one GoPro investors suffered through in 2016.

Image source: Fitbit.

1. Corporate wellness is a wildcard for Fitbit

There's a big difference between Fitbit's nearly 20% decline in sales during the fourth quarter and GoPro's top line taking a 31% hit a year earlier. However, in the bigger picture, the two companies are in freakishly similar situations.

The rough holiday quarter dragged GoPro's revenue growth for all of 2015 to 16%, just as Fitbit's bombshell will result in 17% top-line growth for 2016. GoPro would go on to see its revenue plummet 27% for all of 2016. The midpoint of Fitbit's guidance -- calling for a top-line plunge of 22% to 31% this year -- is nearly where GoPro landed.

This would seem to toss both companies into the same boat -- but let's not forget about the rising popularity of corporate wellness programs. Companies realize that healthier employees don't call in sick as often, and are cheaper to provide health insurance for. A growing number of major corporations are realizing that subsidizing Fitbit bracelets that encourage daily activity goals -- and in some cases provide incentives to meet them -- is a win-win scenario. Fitbit's challenges on the retail end will continue, but when companies are singling out Fitbit by name as employee freebies, it provides the kind of momentum that can offset malaise elsewhere.

2. Fitbit diversification has been better than at GoPro

GoPro's push to wean itself off of Hero wearable cameras found it hyping up its entry into the drone market last year. It was a disaster. GoPro's Karma rollout was delayed, and once the drones did hit the market, all 2,500 that were initially sold had to be recalled because of a defect in the battery casing that resulted in some of them losing power mid-flight.

Fitbit's big move away from fitness-tracking bracelets was the Blaze smartwatch. It may not have been a game-changer, but Fitbit did sell at least a million in each of last year's first two quarters. Anyone outside of Cupertino would kill for that kind of initial market acceptance.

3. GoPro has had to reinvent itself

GoPro decided late last year to shut down its entertainment division and lay off 15% of its workforce. Fitbit just announced that it's eliminating 6% of its staff, but mostly in a move to cut costs, instead of the complete model overhaul at GoPro.

There was a time when GoPro wanted to be a content company, something that helped the market bid it up after its IPO. Now we know that it's essentially a camera company, and its push into high-end consumer drones will be that much harder after the embarrassing recall.

Fitbit has a much wider product line than GoPro; it's not at the mercy of a lull like the one between Hero releases. However, Fitbit is also a legit player in connected fitness. Its app topped the iPhone download chart even after the rough holiday quarter, and its active user base of 23.2 million users leans on Fitbit's data-munching ways. GoPro has done a good job of keeping its moving shutterbugs close with software tools and other applications, but Fitbit's reach is more seamless, and potentially a deeper connection.

It's true that there are some haunting similarities in sales trends between Fitbit today and GoPro a year ago, but Fitbit has more potential catalysts to get back on track, and sooner than GoPro's footsteps would suggest.

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Fitbit. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Fitbit and GoPro. The Motley Fool has the following options: short January 2019 $12 calls on GoPro and long January 2019 $12 puts on GoPro. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.