If you’ve been looking for an excuse to take dance lessons or a reason to try out a new restaurant in Escazú, there’s a chance you’ll find your motivation at www.miferta.com, a new Costa Rican discount website that launched last week.
Miferta, whose title is a hybrid between the Spanish words “mi” (meaning my) and “oferta” (offer or sale), is a bilingual Costa Rican site that offers 40-90 percent discounts on things such as hotel stays, meals at restaurants, photo albums, gym memberships and just about anything or any place that is willing to slash prices for a limited time to attract more customers.
Inspired by the hyper-popular U.S. site www.groupon.com, Miferta hopes to serve as the go-to site to find the deals of the day or the week offered by participating local companies. On Sept. 7, Miferta’s first operating day online, the site offered a 40 percent discount for a one-night stay El Milagro hotel in Tamarindo in the northwest Guanacaste province, a ₡10,000 ($20) saving on a ₡20,000 meal at the restaurant I Love Sushi in the central Pacific town of Jacó, and a 60 percent discount for a professional photo session at André Image Studio in San Pedro. Last week, offers included ₡500 off a ₡1,200 arroz con leche at Rice N’ Smile restaurants and 50 percent off an airboat tour from Airboat Expeditions in Tortuguero, on the northern Caribbean coast.
“It’s basically a way to inspire people to go out and try new things and places,” said Miferta’s general manager, Ian Haet. “If you’d been thinking about going to a new restaurant in Santa Ana (a suburb west of San José), for example, you might not have the motivation to drive across town for a ₡20,000 meal. But if that meal was offered for ₡10,000 one weekend, it might be the right motivation to inspire you to go try it out.”
Miferta’s goal is to serve as a liaison that introduces new customers to businesses. As the site attracts online subscribers, it sends them daily discount updates, such as a deal on ice-cream, lunch at a restaurant or a Spanish lesson, and offers a place in which to purchase the discounted offer.
Miferta already has over 1,000 subscribers, and its page on the social networking site Facebook has more than 3,600 followers.
After becoming a subscriber to the website, a purchase of one of the offers at the site can be made with a credit or debit card. If a purchase is made, the subscriber is given a confirmation code that appears on the site’s account page. To take advantage of the offered discount, the buyer must present the confirmation number to the participating business within the time frame allowed by the deal. When the transaction is processed at the venue, Miferta receives a 20-40 percent commission on the deal.
“Some hotels might think, ‘why would we do this?’” Haet said. “Well, say a hotel looks ahead and sees that in two weeks they are completely vacant. If they decide to put up a deal on Miferta for 60 percent off for that week and that week only, there’s a good possibility that a few customers will bite on the deal. If they do, the customer gets a lowered rate and the hotel gets customers when they had none. Everybody wins.”
Starting Up a Start-Up
If Haet’s idea achieves even a shred of the success in Costa Rica that Groupon.com has seen in the U.S., Miferta could have a bright future. Since launching in Chicago, Illinois in 2008, Groupon now has more than 13 million subscribers and offers discounts in over 230 cities in 29 different countries. In an article in Forbes magazine in August, Groupon.com was named “the fastest growing company in Web history,” reaching a valuation of $1 billion only 17 months after its launch.
At the same time, if Miferta starts seeing success in the national market, Groupon might be following not far behind. Since launching a Latin American expansion in April, Groupon has already working in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.
“We are planning to continue to expand our Latin American presence as it makes sense to us,” said Julie Mossler, a spokeswoman for Groupon. “I know that there are plans for continued expansion, but we don’t announce which countries until we’re on the ground there.”
Mossler said that as Groupon has seen spectacular success, companies around the world have taken to emulating the idea, even creating sites with identical interfaces.
“On one hand, I guess it is flattering that we invented this idea and people are following it,” Mossler said. “But it certainly doesn’t scare us. We don’t pay as much attention to what other companies are doing … we focus more on what we are doing to keep our products as innovative as possible.”
Though Haet says he does not expect Miferta’s success to rival that of Groupon, he does hope the site can work its way into the national tourism, restaurant, bar, wellness and cultural markets. Haet hopes that companies will realize that the site can serve as an alternative or complement to traditional advertising.
“I was very interested when I first heard about the idea behind Miferta,” said Iliana Salas, manager of Airboat Expeditions. “We are still a new company and it’s a way to get our name out there without costing us one colón. If a customer buys the deal, we make a profit and pay a little to Miferta, and if not, we pay nothing.”
Currently, Ticodescuentos.com, which is in Spanish (the name means Tico discounts), is the only comparable site to Miferta operating in Costa Rica. The Tico Times was unable to gauge by presstime the number of customers who frequent Ticodescuentos.com. However, if Facebook is a judge of popularity, with only 320 followers, it still has some work ahead.
According to the website www.alexa.com, which monitors Web traffic, Miferta.com currently is ranked as the 904th most visited site in Costa Rica, while www.ticodescuentos.com is ranked at number 1,450.
“We know the beginning will be slow,” Haet said. “But we think there is a niche for this here. If we can get enough people to buy into the idea, it should work.”
If Groupon’s success is any indication of the possibilities for Miferta in Costa Rica, Haet’s discount idea could be a national up-start company to keep an eye on. Especially if you’re smart shopper.