San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Online shopping still low in Costa Rica, study finds

Despite having internet coverage in some 88 percent of the country, only 12 percent of consumers in Costa Rica shop online, a study on shopping habits and trends by consultant company Kantar Worldpanel found.

The figure is low compared to the 31 percent average in Latin America, but is the highest in Central America, where the average is 7 percent, according to the Customer Watch 2016 report.

Results in Argentina, the country that tops the Latin American list of e-shoppers, show that half of its consumers prefer to shop at online stores.

Kantar Worldpanel commercial director Emma Ortiz said Costa Rica’s 12 percent must be seen as a great opportunity for growth.

“The figure of online shoppers in Costa Rica is indeed low, especially by taking into account that the country has an internet coverage that doubles the average in Central America, currently at 47 percent,” she said.

Online shoppers in Panama placed second at 8 percent. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador follow at 6 percent, while only 5 percent of consumers shop online in Nicaragua.

Tico shopper profile

The reasons why most Costa Rican consumers prefer to shop at conventional stores is related to the shopping experience, the study found.

Eighty percent of respondents said they prefer to “see and touch a product before buying it,” while 77 percent said they prefer to go to a physical store because salespeople are available to answer questions about the products.

One of the main challenges for online businesses is delivery times. Three-quarters of respondents said they prefer to shop at a store because they can acquire the product immediately, instead of having to wait days or weeks for delivery.

Another reason Tico consumers prefer traditional stores is they believe sales and bargains are more common than at online stores.

The fifth reason cited by consumers is safety. More than a quarter of respondents — 28 percent — said they feel safer shopping at a physical store than doing an online transaction.

The segment of Ticos who refrain from shopping online is formed mostly — 49 percent — by consumers 50 and older, identified in the study as baby boomers. Members of Generation X, or customers between 36 and 49, are second at 32 percent, while only 19 percent of people under 35, or millennials, say they never shop online.

The technology gap represents one of the main reasons for not buying online, as 42 percent of people surveyed said they are not confident about entering personal information on a website, while 38 percent said they do not know how to use the internet or do not have access to it.

“Shopping online is more expensive” was the third reason, cited by 32 percent of people polled. “Because I like being able to ask a vendor” was fourth at 21 percent, and 16 percent of respondents said, “Because I don’t understand websites.”

Online shopping niches

Most online purchases in Costa Rica, and in all of Central America, are of products in the “entertainment and lifestyle” category.

Kantar research found that 55 percent of people use websites to purchase electronic gadgets, 46 percent buy clothing and footwear, 28 percent shop for vacations and travel, 21 percent buy toys and 17 percent go online for entertainment options such as movie or concert tickets, food or other goods.

Ortiz noted that one of the best niches for online shopping in Costa Rica is within the “fast-moving consumer goods” category, which includes food, drinks, personal care products, household products and other perishable goods.

The study found that almost 100 percent of online sales within this category in Costa Rica came from personal care items.

In order to cash in on selling products in this category, companies mostly should improve the speed and quality of delivery services, Ortiz said.

“Options range from offering free delivery to providing faster delivery times than the competition,” she added.

Businesses should also improve information to highlight the benefits of online shopping. Ortiz said they should remind people that they can compare prices easily and can create and save shopping lists to reuse later, she said.

Market still open for mailbox rental companies

Mailbox rental companies agree that the market’s potential among Tico consumers is more than promising. Subscriptions to U.S.-based mailbox services, mainly in Miami, have shown a solid growth in recent years.

State-owned post office Correos de Costa Rica in September 2012 opened a mailbox rental department called Box Correos that already has more than 50,000 customers in all seven provinces, e-commerce director Stephanie Vargas Alvarado said.

The popularity of the new service prompted the company to invest some ₡500 million (about $930,000) in new personnel, vehicles, tracking and security technology, as well as in a new building exclusively for the business unit.

The post office is also investing more in advertising, “mainly around special days such as Christmas, Black Friday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, among others,” Vargas said.

The new business unit takes advantage of the company’s current infrastructure, including its 114 offices. “Our presence throughout the country allows us to offer our customers the same delivery rates in every province, and we don’t charge membership fees like other companies,” she said.

State-owned post office Correos de Costa Rica offers a mailbox rental and package delivery service at all of its 114 offices and last year opened a new building exclusively for these services.

(Via Correos de Costa Rica)

Jetbox is another mailbox rental service that currently is undergoing a series of changes and investments aiming to cash in on e-commerce here.

Marketing manager Gabriela Apuy said Jetbox believes online shopping is booming here, prompted mainly by an increase in internet penetration, both in home and mobile connections.

Apuy said the growth of online shopping prompted the company to invest about $750,000 to open 10 new stores across the country just in the past two years.

The company is moving forward with its expansion this year with the implementation of a micro-franchise model to offer delivery services outside the greater metropolitan area, particularly in communities in Limón, Puntarenas and Guanacaste, “where people are increasingly shopping online,” she said. The company already has seven of these distribution offices.

“The growth is evident; we have 45,000 active clients and we’ve seen increases both in the number of customers and in deliveries,” Apuy said, noting that in 2015 the company recorded 12 percent more customers and 15 percent more deliveries than the previous year.

She said the growth is also noticeable in the purchase value, as customers are now shopping for bigger and more expensive products.

Companies’ promotional strategies, such as special tariffs or deals, are also expanding as they take advantage of major holidays and special celebrations, both here and in the U.S.

Mailbox rental services in the past weeks were strongly promoting shopping sales for the Memorial Day weekend, and starting this week they will begin boosting their promotional messages for Father’s Day on June 19.

Contact L. Arias at

Comments are closed.


The main reason more people don’t shop using the internet was never mentioned in this article. The high duties for imported items.

You can fly to Ft Lauderdale, buy a computer and fly back to Costa Rica for the same price as buying one over the internet. So really, only people who don’t care that much about the money but want the convenience will use the internet for major shopping. Not that many people, really.

Plus — there are some items you actually cannot import — including vitamins, herbal supplements and many medicines as well as some First Aid supplies.

Statistics are fine, but not if they ignore one of the major components of online international shopping: Duties and restrictions on what you can buy and import.

Come on, Tico Times– get it right.

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One more thing.

If you get value for your vote in future elections, an do not buy from wal-mart owned stores/companies, wal-mart will compete meaning lower prices.

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Meh Walmart here simply ships all the trash North Americans won’t buy down here and then they charge a premium for it. Ticos need to reject the things that destroyed USA, including Monsanto GMOs, which are now proven to create cancer ( Europe is smart enough to ban, CR was about to, then obviously got paid off to allow them.

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Walmart owns wal-mart super centers, and
Palí – 151 stores in C.R.,
Más X Menos – 34 stores in C.R.,
Maxi Pali – 34 stores in C.R.

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Jody Rutledge

The reason people don’t shop online is because web sites for companies in Costa Rica are so inadequate. Most don’t list products and if they do there are no prices.
In fact, most companies are decades behind in design and function if they even have a web presence.

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Oh, stop it!
Another publication to prove “Costa Rica is the happiest place on the earth”.
Many Ticos would love to shop online. However in most cases you need a US credit Card.
Consequently, I do a lot of shipping online for Ticos.
When you shop online, you can seek reviews of the product to see if it is worthy of your money.
I used to buy in Costa Rica, but my fire (Tico) pointed out that if the items does not have a price attached I pay double.
Ah yes, the foreigner wallet!
In the past decade I have experimented, If I buy an identical item from China and have it shipped to me it is always much less than if I do so from the United States.
So much for free trade. I am lead to believe the free trade is for similar items. But what items does Costa Rica really manufacture?
Costa Rica should be weary, the current flow in the US is to stop this nonsense. If that succeeds, then the wealth will be over for a while.
What you say, tell me, how many jobs does China make for Ticos? HECK OF A LOT FOR CHINESE.
Except for a few vendors n here, you can not really view the products for sale that you may be shopping for.
I suspect that many times I was shown something that had been sitting on the shelf for months and convinced it was a wonderful product.
Then too, the stupidly. I am retired from the United States. My social security will provide me with the asthma medicine I need, but Costa Rica will not allow its import. Consequently I have the system here provide the same medicine.
Once i purchase Band-Aids with antibiotics for a filler so that I could receive free shipping. Those Band-Aids cost me over 100 dollars of fees and frustration. I had to go to a doctor and get a prescription for such.

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It would be SSSOOOOOOOOO nice if a Costa Rican government employee with genuine authority & desire to help his country & with an IQ above 60 would actually take the time to read & act on the comments below. The profits realized by government & government employees by stealing peoples’ private mail is minuscule compared to the damage done by Costa Rica to its reputation by holding people’s personal possessions for ransom. Ticos are not thieves, but their government certainly is. We do not object to paying taxes, but we do resent being treated like pond scum just to have what is already ours.

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Mark Kahle

Just a couple of quick personal observations… Three years ago I had a vocational school in the US send me a used text book for a Masters level (journeyman) electrical installation principles. I had a letter from the school stating the value at 30 USD and that it was a charitable donation. Not to be outdone the book never made it to me, it was stuck in San Jose customs. I made the 5 hour drive and was told that the fee to get the book out was 125 USD. I told them to keep the book and to get fu**ed. They started screaming that it would cost 40 USD to send it back due to having to pay the Costa Rican mail weight and that I had to pay that postage. I again said that since I never possessed the book it was their legal responsibility…. they then started negotiating the duty price down….I walked out. I checked with the school that sent it…they never got it back.

Next thing is this… It takes 1-3 days for something from the US/Canada/Europe to get here…. it then takes 1 week to 1 month for it to be delivered. Many places won’t send anything here without a real address for tracking purposes. The lack of addresses also account for the lack of ability to send anyone anything by mail to include tax notices, payment notices, simple letters or any of the thousands of things that can fit in an envelope.

And someone needs to inform the CCSS Hospital system that Aspirin actually cost about 1 cent each in a bottle of 500…. NOT a dollar or more each…. yet I can’t get them mailed to me.

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Chas Moskowitz

We live in Costa Rica (Flamingo) for the winter and I would like to know how to shop online and have the item(s) delivered?

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Fernando Gerdano

Comments are all right on! Import taxes are a ripoff. The politicians and rich families here are ripping off their own people. Costa Ricans are so full of pura vida they just let it happen. Like comment said it’s cheaper to fly to the states and make your purchases and fly back with them. Make them look old and used, out of the box is all. Also much faster, it can take a month or longer for a simple online purchase. Having used Aerocasillas and Jet Box many times as well they will lose your package (ie stolen by their employees) and they take NO responsibility, ever. Pura vida.

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Yea this country is CHOKING itself on its import taxes. If you want to see the economy flourish, drastically reduce or eliminate all import taxes on product classes that are NOT specifically made here in costa rica. This has the intended effect of import taxes to protect local economy, while allowing a richer experience and open access to products around the world at their NORMAL retail value (as opposed to 250% of normal retail).

Import taxes were never meant to be a profit center for the country. They are only meant to protect domestic industry. I don’t think CR got the memo.

CR is the most expensive country I’ve ever lived in. This is in large part due to the import taxes + shipping costs + sales tax + tico’s lack of “competition”. Like, you KNOW that if the government did whats right and got rid of insane import taxation, the ticos would keep their prices the same and pocket the difference. Thats just how they think. It probably doesn’t help that the government restricts a company’s ability to compare themselves to other companies or products. I find that hilarious when the President talks about ways to “increase business competitiveness” – they all must be asleep at the wheel.

Ecommerce would boom if the government followed simple guidelines already proven to work in other small countries that are extremely rich. Instead they elect a “business man” who just wants to raise taxes and fly around the world making connections for himself for when his term is over. Though can’t blame the public much, politicians are all crooked and self-serving.

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True true… its frustrating for us extranjeros because this is such a small country, with REAL potential to PAVE THE WAY right for all Latin America, yet the people themselves seem so complacent and passive. In this kind of country, the people really could take control of their corrupt governments and get it all done right – but they do nothing. Unlike a country like USA, which is far too large and controlled to possibly make an impact, CR is ripe for the peoples peaceful revolution.

If CR doesn’t wake up, Nicaragua and their tanks are gonna roll right over it.

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In the USA, when one buys items from vendors such as Amazon, they are offered free shipping for most items that are delivered in a timely manner directly to their door. In addition, there is no need to pay for mailbox rentals, expensive shipping or high taxes and/or fees. With this kind of format, online shopping makes sense and is considered worthwhile.

If shipping in Costa Rica was more efficient and cost effective with regards to items purchased online, then online shopping would also be worthwhile.

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#1. Free shipping is bulk snail mail with a minimum purchase.
#2. There is nothing timely about bulk snail mail.
#3. In most cases you can purchase the same item in a retail center for the same or even less in the states.
#4. It is about convenience, time has a different meaning for some, in Costa Rica time is a given, in the states time is a luxury that is highly sought after.
#5. It is much easier to be successful when you are sampling 323+million(U.S.), as oppose to 4+million(C.R.).

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Based on your reply I’m not sure what your objective was with all the negativity but I would like to disagree with your perspectives.

First and foremost, using Amazon as an example, most any item that are shipped free are usually delivered through UPS or Fed Ex and not snail mail, then you can be certain to receive your package within 3 business days, which indeed IS timely. In regards to costs of products available online, if you do your research, you will find that 90% of what is sold on Amazon will cost much less than any retail store, heck, even the online vendor who sells directly will have items that costs more than Amazon. In regards to population, I would think 4 million people is plenty to find success in online shopping.

The point is, online shopping can be a great way to shop with convenience and pay lower prices, but only if shipping prices/fees are reasonable. So I revert back to saying that if shipping in Costa Rica was more efficient and cost effective, online shopping in Costa would be worthwhile.

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Once again free shipping is bulk snail mail with a minimum purchase. Or you can pay for ups or fed ex. Or you can pay for a membership, and even that does not guarantee free shipping. Regardless it still costs money.

And yes all day long you can get a price match guarantee at almost any retailer in the U.S.(target, k-mart, bestbuy, frys, sears, ect. wal-mart will actually beat amazons price.) TB, youmight want to have your eye’s checked so you can read the print! Used and Refurbished merchandise is not the same as New merchandise. Lexus advertised a self parking car, that does not mean every lexus is self parking, not to mention the difference in price. The samegoes for Amazon they advertised they have free shipping, not that shipping is free.

323million compared to 4million your eighty times more likely to be be successful.

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