Yelp browsers' lack of loyalty and the company's reliance on Facebook and Google to direct traffic to its site add up to an uncertain future, according to Piper Jaffray.
The restaurant and local business customer review site is losing strategic value as the importance of long-form reviews withers with the rise of quick posting on social media, analyst Sam Kemp told clients Wednesday.
"We do not believe browser or app users are highly loyal for Yelp – we believe engagement historically occurred because Yelp was simply the best among poor options," Kemp wrote in a note. "While Yelp's app base, which is highly monetized, continues to grow 20 percent year over year, we believe that competitive efforts from Facebook and Google in particular are set to impair traffic growth to Yelp and redirect user attention away from the app."
Kemp downgraded Yelp shares to underweight and cut his price target by $1 to $37, which is 12 percent lower than Wednesday's closing price.
Worse-than-expected third-quarter performance has also weighed on the shares in the past month. Yelp said that it now expects to make less revenue than expected for the full 2017, and it lowered fourth-quarter guidance by 2 percent.
Shares of Yelp fell more than 2 percent Thursday, contributing to a loss of more than 8 percent in the past week.
Yelp declined to comment on this story.
Yelp derives much of its traffic from both its app (about two-thirds of traffic) and searches on Google or external sources such as Facebook. As search engines and social media platforms such as Google and Facebook improve their own review platforms, Kemp said he is worried that browsers will stop using Yelp.
"While long-form reviews were crucial to the internet's early- and mid-stage lifecycle, we believe the relative importance of long-form reviews is declining for smaller ticket items (restaurants, spas, malls, etc.)," added Kemp. "We believe this is occurring due to the increasing quality of consumer recommendation engines, shortening consumer attention spans, the increasing reliance on star ratings on key platforms, the increasing role of social in local discovery, and the general improvement of content at large competitors.
"Google and Facebook are the instigators behind these improvements, slowly shifting user behavior over time in ways that we believe will be long-term impediments to Yelp's engagement."