Groupon, Inc. (NASDAQ:GRPN) Q4 2022 Earnings Call Transcript

Groupon, Inc. (NASDAQ:GRPN) Q4 2022 Earnings Call Transcript March 16, 2023

Operator: Good day, everyone, and welcome to Groupon's Fourth Quarter 2022 Financial Results Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in listen-only mode. A question-and-answer session will follow the Company's formal remarks. And just a reminder, today's conference is being recorded. And now for opening remarks, I would like to turn the call over to the Chief Communications Officer, Jennifer Beugelmans. Jennifer, please go ahead.

Jennifer Beugelmans: Hello and welcome to Groupon's fourth quarter 2022 financial results conference call. On the call today are CEO Kedar Deshpande; and CFO Damien Schmitz. The following discussion and responses to your questions reflect management's views as of today, March 16, 2023 only and will include forward-looking statements. Actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied in our forward-looking statements. Additional information about risks and other factors that could potentially impact our financial results is included in our earnings press release and in our filings with the SEC, including our annual report on Form 10-K. We encourage investors to use our Investor Relations website at as a way of easily finding information about the Company.

Groupon promptly makes available on this website the reports that the Company files or furnishes with the SEC, corporate governance information and select press releases and social media postings. On the call today, we will also discuss the following non-GAAP financial measures, adjusted EBITDA, adjusted EBITDA margin, non-GAAP SG&A, free cash flow and FX-neutral results. In our press release and our filings with the SEC, each of which is posted on our Investor Relations website, you will find additional disclosures regarding the non-GAAP measures, including reconciliations of these measures to the most comparable measures under U.S. GAAP. Unless otherwise noted, all comparisons to 2019 are provided on an FX mutual basis. And with that, I'm happy to turn the call over to Kedar.

Kedar Deshpande: Hello, and thanks for joining us for our fourth quarter 2022 earnings call. In the fourth quarter, we delivered local billings of $366 million, up 6% compared with the third quarter. While we drove a sequential improvement from the third to fourth quarter, there is no way to sugarcoat it. Our results for our local category were disappointed. Though, local billings performance was better in November, our business began experiencing significant headwinds in December, and as you will hear us discuss, these headwinds continued in early 2023. We are not living up to our full potential today, but we are taking steps to transform our business, improve profitability, and grow our marketplace. To drive our business forward, we are focused on three areas, improving the supply side of our marketplace to drive customer demand, leveraging and improve inventory base to make our marketing and promotional spin more efficient, and doing both of against a backdrop of a meaningfully streamlined cost structure and much better operational rigor.

To begin, let's start with the cost structure. This is an area where we have already made notable progress. Last year, we launched a plan to reduce expenses and align our cost base with where the business is today. We have substantially achieved our Phase 1 goal to reduce our cost base by $150 million annually. Our Phase 1 actions were oriented towards sales, the completion of our migration to the cloud, and right sizing of our facilities footprint. When we announced Phase 1, we also committed to taking another $50 million of costs out by the end of 2023. Given our recent business performance, we have decided to accelerate and expand this Phase 2 of restructuring. Our plan is now to reduce our cost structure by an additional $100 million annually, which is 2x the size of our original cost reduction plan.

Our Phase 2 savings will primarily relate to payroll reductions, which we will achieve by eliminating approximately 500 positions globally. The majority of these reductions should be done by the end of second quarter of 2023. The remaining savings are related to non-payroll cost actions, such as reducing our technology, software, and professional services costs. We have also finished our migration to the cloud. Moving forward, we will be focused on reducing the number of services that we are hosting in the cloud. We believe there is an opportunity for us to save even more in the years ahead potentially cutting our cloud spend in half. As we execute on our transformation strategy, our lower cost structure should allow us to achieve significant operating leverage.

This means that we should be able to generate positive adjusted EBITDA, and free cash flow going forward once our Phase 2 actions are complete, even at current local marketplace volume levels. And as we grow our local marketplace, revenue flow through should improve sustainably. Now that we have gone through the process of taking costs out of the business, we are also making sure we have the right processes and operating rigor in place to keep our cost structure tight, while we continue to look for ways to strategically reduce cost in the future. To support this effort, we have established a transformation office that is focused on creating an action-oriented culture that rewards performance, ownership and frugality. Ensuring leadership is accountable with new operating structure.

And finally, further reducing costs and streamlining business processes. So that's how we are stabilizing the business. Now let's talk about our growth plan, which starts with improving the inventory on our marketplace. We must ensure that we meet our customers' needs every single time they come to our marketplace so that we can drive local purchase frequency. And over the last few quarters, we have been focused on aligning on the best strategy to do this. Last quarter, we talked to you about a number of initiatives including Groupon incentives, CLO, personalized promotion, and changes to search and relevance. We use the Atlanta test market to test all these initiatives together. Let me give you a few insights into what we learned. The biggest takeaway is that we learn that we can leverage small incentives such as Groupon Bucks, to stimulate customer demand.

That said, while we were able to drive purchase frequency up by as much as 14% during our Atlanta test using Groupon Bucks incentives, there were limitations. Meaning, that we encountered challenges in sustaining this level of purchase frequency improvement. While many customers came back a second time to use the Groupon Bucks, many did not come back a third or fourth time to make purchase on our marketplace. Why? Because we did not have the inventory they were looking for. The incentives were not enough to compel consumers to make purchase just because they received the discount, not if our inventory did not match their search intent. So in order for these incentives to work and drive purchase frequency higher, we must build an inventory base that delivers the experiences and services our customers want all the time.

These results and learnings have directly informs our sales transformation strategy. We are leveraging empirical internal and external data from this test sources to power our efforts. Our goal is simple. We want to build a more inspiring inventory base that engages customer and drives purchase frequency. Once we have the right inventory, we can use the strategies and tools such as Groupon Incentives, new search and relevance breakthroughs et cetera to accelerate our progress further. Future success for the Groupon marketplace starts with supply. If we win the right supply and expand our selection of fresh, new offerings, we believe demand will follow. While Groupon has a scaled local marketplace, recently our inventory acquisition strategy has not been driven by consumer demand.

And as a result, considerable amount of the inventory we have on our marketplace today is not being purchased by customers. In fact, in 2022, over 75% of our deals in North America marketplace sold fewer than 10 units each month. Having the right inventory is mission critical to both driving consumer demand and creating a positive merchant experience on our platform. So for 2023, in addition to leveraging self-service for acquiring new merchants, our goal is to leverage our sales force to acquire more high value merchants. Our new merchant acquisition strategy will be centered on fulfilling consumer intent by acquiring higher quality inventory that we know consumers want, instead of acquiring more for the sake of more. To do this, we are implementing a hyper local merchant acquisition approach, which is focused on acquiring the right merchant in the right category, the right location and with the right deal structure.

In the first step of our hyper local approach, we are prioritizing merchant acquisition in our Top 5 U.S. markets, New York, Chicago, LA, Washington D.C. and Phoenix. Once we have proof of the concept, we expect to expand this hyper local approach to other North America and European capitals. Our top priorities in each market are to identify and acquire high-quality local merchants in categories with unfulfilled intent, as well as acquire highly compelling national deals from well known merchants, to drive consumer engagement on our platform. To do this, each of our top markets will be led by a city CEO, who will be responsible for leading inventory acquisition and management and the performance of overall market. To optimize inventory acquisition, we have implemented a number of new initiatives in each of our top markets.

First, we are refining our sales acquisition process to ensure our sales teams are going after the highest quality supply. Sales reps now have very specific target merchants. They are responsible for acquiring by vertical and geographic location. We are also providing our sales reps with customized deal structure recommendations for prospects to help them bring new merchants onto our platform. This is departure from our previous structure when the sales reps had the freedom to bring on any merchant with any deal structure and still make their sales quotas. Second, we are aligning the sales compensation to the performance of the deals and merchants that bring on the marketplace. In other words, they will be compensated based on the output of their deals, not just the number of deals launched or merchants acquired.

To give you a little color, so far, we have already seen the outperformance of these new curated deals in our top markets. These curated deals are the ones that are receiving special attention from our sales teams from deal structure to deal copy. And as a result, customers are responding, we have seen solid increases in conversion and unit velocity and new customer acquisition on our first handful of deals. Additionally, we have also refined our approach to retaining merchants and deals with a similar focus on quality. Our sales compensation plans related to merchant retentions are also now focused on retaining high quality deal structures year over year. As we improve our inventory, we believe customer and demand will also rebound, top initiatives to create a better customer experience include leveraging and improve inventory base to power better search and relevance and recommendations, and continuing to enhance customer service interactions and reduce refunds, which should yield better customer trust in our marketplace.

We are beginning to see a positive trend emerge with refund rates, which we believe will continue to help improve the trust in our marketplace. Over the past year, refund rates have improved in North America and international, and we are focused on reducing them even further going forward. If we were to successful in transforming our inventory base, we believe we can significantly improve the performance of new merchants this year. Our goal is to increase billings and cross profit per new merchant by more than 20%. In addition, currently only 20% of local deals in our marketplace sell more than 10 vouchers per month. Our goal for the new deals we are onboarding is to ensure that more than 20% of these deals sell 10 plus vouchers per month. If we are successful in our supply transformation, we believe we can increase consumer purchase frequency to north of 3x per year.

These goals are just the start, in our opinion. Once we gain traction with our bigger top merchants, we intend to build on this success throughout the rest of the marketplace. We believe that this will allow us to unlock our marketplace flywheel. As we improve our inventory by connecting it more directly to consumer intent and drive organic demand, we can reduce our marketing and promotional span while driving higher return on investment. Overall, our goal is to reduce our marketing expense to less than 25% of our gross profit in 2023. Opportunistically, relocate our marketing budget to higher written channels, and lean into more personalized promotions and pricing to reduce our promotional spend while at the same time driving incremental sales.

We believe that successful execution in these areas will allow us to return the Company to growth and allow us to deliver positive adjusted EBITDA even on a reduced revenue base. While we haven't lived up to our potential, our marketplace opportunity remains immense, and we believe we are taking the right steps to not only stabilize the business, but create a roadmap for growth. Given the work we have done and opportunities that lay ahead of us, we believe that we are well positioned to create value for our customers, merchants, employees, and shareholders. With that, I will turn it over to Damien to walk you through our Q4 results.

Damien Schmitz: Thanks, Kedar, and thank you as well to everyone who's joining us today. I'll use my time today to provide further insights into our fourth quarter operating financial results, factors to consider for the first quarter in full year 2023, and details on our Phase 2 cost savings actions. In addition to my prepared remarks, I encourage you to review our slides, press release, and 10-K, which contain more detail on our Q4 results. Taking a step back, before we go into our Q4 results, our performance this quarter was clearly disappointing and was not aligned with the potential of the Company. As Kedar discussed, we're taking steps to change this trajectory, so let's jump into our consolidated fourth quarter results.

We delivered $468 million of gross billings, $148 million of revenue, $129 million of gross profit, and negative $5 million of adjusted EBITDA. We generated $10 million free cash flow in the fourth quarter and end the quarter with $281 million in cash, including $75 million drawn on the revolver, and we had nearly $19 million active customers worldwide. Turning to our local category, consolidated local billings were $366 million, down 17% on an FX neutral basis compared with a prior year, and 51% of 2019 levels. Looking to 2023, early results show local billings for January February are in line with the pullback we saw in December. Within our North America customer base, we had 9.2 million active local customers in the fourth quarter, down 7% quarter-over-quarter, and within our international markets, we had 5 million active local customers in the fourth quarter, down 1% compared with the prior quarter.

Moving to our goods category in the fourth quarter billings were $70 million. Turning to operating expenses GAAP SG&A was $112 million for the fourth quarter, as we continued to remain prudent with our spending. Our non-GAAP SG&A, which excludes stock-based compensation and D&A was a $100 million. We completed our migration of the cloud in the first quarter of 2023, and remain committed to significantly reducing our cloud costs over time, which will be complimented by lower payroll expenses resulting from the cost savings actions we announced in January. During2022, we have incurred $10 million in 1x pre-tax charges related to Phase 1 of our savings plan, but the majority of Phase 1 cost actions complete as of the end of 2022. Marketing expense for the fourth quarter was 43 million or 33% of gross profit.

As we continue to deliver improvements to our fundamental marketplace experience, we believe we can get more out of our marketing dollars. Our goal is to reduce our marketing expense to less than 25% of gross profit in 2023. Turning to our cash position. In the fourth quarter, we returned a cash generation with $10 million of free cash flow, we also repaid $35 million in borrowings on our revolving credit agreement. As a result, we ended the year with a cash balance of $281 million, which includes $75 million drawn on our revolver. In addition, during the first quarter, we successfully renegotiated our credit agreement and modified our covenants for our credit facility. Groupon continues to hold a 2.29% equity stake in privately held global payments providers SumUp. As a reminder, we reflect the value of this stake as well as other minority investments on our balance sheet.

The carrying value for this investment is approximately $120 million. While there is no public market for SumUp Securities at this time, an opportunity arises to monetize this asset we would consider this path going forward. In August of 2022, we announced that, we had begun executing Phase 1 of our restructuring plan to reduce our annual cost by $150 million. And as Kedar discussed, we have expanded Phase 2 scope of our restructuring plan and accelerated our timeline. Between restructuring and other cost actions, we intend to reduce our expense structure by a combined total of $215 million. While I'm not providing this as guidance to give you an idea of how these actions can unlock the power of our financial model that we are able to sustain our local category at 50% of 2019 levels, with our new cost structure, we would expect to generate at least $100 million of adjusted EBITDA.

To help you with your models, let me walk you through how savings from our Phase 2 cost actions are expected to translate to our P&L. We estimate full year non-GAAP 2023 SG&A to be approximately $320 million, which represents a significant step down from our previous estimate of $390 million. We have moved quickly to execute on our Phase 2 restructuring actions and we will begin to see savings in the first quarter of 2023. As a result, we will be able to lower our annual non-GAAP SG&A run rate to be approximately $290 million. We also expect to incur $10 million to $20 million of pretax charges in the first half of 2023 in connection with our Phase 2 restructuring actions, which will be adjusted out from EBITDA. Given we are in the midst of executing our turnaround strategy, combined with an uncertain macroeconomic environment, we are withdrawing our previously issued full year 2023 free cash flow and adjusted EBITDA margin targets.

In light of this, we are providing more details on anticipated drivers of first quarter performance. Quarter-to-date our preliminary results through February include, North America local billings are estimated to be approximately 44% of 2019 levels and down 9% year-on-year. International local billings are estimated to be approximately 49% of 2019 levels and down 1% year-over-year on an FX neutral basis. And consolidated local billings are estimated to be approximately 46% of 2019 levels and down 7% year-over-year on an FX neutral basis. As Kedar mentioned, we plan to reallocate some marketing spend to lower formal performance marketing channels and we will look to continue to invest in marketing, overall if we see opportunities to drive attractive returns.

Depending on the timing for some of our proposed restructuring actions, we expect first quarter adjusted EBITDA to be between negative $5 million and negative $10 million. Finally, based upon the performance of the business in the first quarter, we'll see significant cash outflows in the first quarter. As a reminder, all of our financial goals for this year are closely aligned with our transformation strategy and goals for 2023 to increase billings and gross profit by more than 20% for new merchants, increased share of new local deals that sell 10 or more vouchers per month than our top five markets, which is currently around 20%. We are starting with our larger merchants, but once we have proof of concept here, we'll roll this out to our smaller long tail merchants.

We believe this is crucial to improve the vibrancy of our marketplace. And finally, we have a goal of returning overall customer purchase frequency to more than three times per year. Given our current equity market valuation, our sum up stake, our operating plan focused on unlocking both top line growth and expense savings. We believe we can create value for our stakeholders as we continue to execute our transformation strategy. Thank you for your time today. With that, we'd like to open the call up for questions.

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