Shopping may not be a first response to an economic recession that’s seemingly strangled the stock market and frozen credit lines.
But, if your wallet remains strapped in your back pocket, you’ll be missing out on some of the best bargains of the decade. Restaurants have slashed their prices or are offering competitive pricing. Airfares have dropped below even pre-crisis levels. And a slew of tourist offices and hotels are participating in promotions to entice the thrifty out of their homes.
The best bargains are in the industries where you’ll find the fewest shoppers right now, such as furniture, cars, travel and real estate, said Julio Ugarte, president of the Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce.
“The business sectors that have been hardest hit by the crisis – automobiles, appliances, household goods … – are those that have taken stronger measures to mitigate the reduction of sales, using new marketing strategies and promotions to find a place for their products,” he said, pointing to automobile sales as one of the areas he’s seen the greatest reductions. “Businesses have repackaged products, increased marketing, offered greater numbers of promotions – including sweepstakes – and improved customer service, because at this point people are more careful in deciding where they go to spend their resources.”
José Carballo, who oversees the Costa Rican Automotive Chamber, said used-car dealers are lowering the price and raising the guarantee or supplementing car purchases with gifts, such as batteries, gas or paint jobs, to encourage sales.
“The number of sales has fallen to a critical point,” said Carballo, who operates Autos San Francisco in the La Sabana area in western San José (2248-0863). “Many car dealers have closed. Some have dropped their prices by 50 percent. And it doesn’t help that we are in a month with traditionally low sales.”
He added, “For those looking for cars, they will find a lower price and a better guarantee.”
Furniture stores around the Central Valley offer periodic promotions to stay afloat. Ana María Valenzuela, who owns Kembali furniture store in Santa Ana, southwest of the capital (2231-3075, www.muebleskembali.com), is in the middle of a fullscale liquidation, offering discounts of up to 50 percent.
Because of the construction of the San José-Caldera highway, the entrance to the store will be closed for a few months. She’s decided that the recession has tightened the market to such an extent that it’s not worth waiting for the road to reopen.
“The crisis has totally affected business,” said Valenzuela, who will be offering discounts at her store through the end of July.
The tourism sector, with the number of tourists entering the country down about 13 percent (TT, May 8), is trying a slew of promotions to stimulate the market. Cala Luna hotel, near Tamarindo on the northern Pacific coast (2625-0214, www. calaluna.com), is offering a free night’s accommodation after three nights’ stay (four nights for $450 plus). Collin Street Bakery, near La Virgen de Sarapiquí in northern Costa Rica (2761-1700, www.pineappletourcr.com), is offering three for-the-price-of-two admission ($48) for its organic pineapple tour. And Alamo car rental company (2242-7733, www.alamocostarica.com) is giving two free days with a seven-day rental.
“The economic crisis has led many businesses to offer promotions, and also to lower their prices,” said María Laura Salom, a spokesperson for the Costa Rican Tourism Board’s (ICT’s) recently launched Costa Rica Plus campaign, which has a Web site steaming with good deals at www.visitcostarica.com/crplus.
Airlines have echoed tourist bargains with packages of their own. Local airline Nature Air (2299-6000, www.natureair.com) is offering free airfare for children under 12 and a two-day car rental for people buying round-trip fares. TACA airlines (2299-8222, www.taca.com) is hoping to boost sales with last-minute discounts and package deals, including four-night trips to Havana, Cuba, for $399 and seven-night trips to Disney World for $1,339.
“We have been looking for ways to kindle the market among the three groups we cater to: tourists, business travelers (35 percent discount for affiliates) and VFR, which stands for visitors, family and relatives,” said TACA spokeswoman Sofía Valverde.
Restaurants across the Central Valley, along the coastlines and in the mountains aren’t absent from the lineup of businesses featuring promotions.
Sergio’s (2520-2722), which opened in the western San José district of Pavas amidst the recession, is offering clients 50 percent off all menu items after 6 p.m.
“As the restaurant is new, this concept is meant for us to get to know more people and to encourage more people to come,” said owner Sergio Hsiao Jiun of his two-floor restaurant with an international menu. He will offer the discount through Aug. 31.
For clothes, electronics or gifts, it may be better to wait until año fiscal in September, a time when many retailers drop their prices to close out the fiscal year.
If you can’t wait, look for outdoor markets and monitor the sales at Wal-Martowned megastore chain Hipermás (www.hipermas.co.cr), which is constantly running sales.