Talking tech since 2003

I admit it, I am promo code obsessed.  It is almost against my moral standards to buy something online without a promo code or online coupon.  And like most women that shop online, it makes me feel accomplished in a way, like I won the battle of paying full-price.  I especially like seeing the discount come off and know I just saved 10, 20 or 30 percent (I even sometimes brag about the savings to my friends).  But the problem with the promo-code hunting process is it’s very time consuming, that is, until Mavatar came along.

Mavatar, which works as a browser extension or as an iPad app, is a universal shopping cart that currently works with 14 supported stores including all Gap-family stores, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus.  Saks and others are coming soon.  Once you download Mavatar and shop at the supported stores, a separate window pops up, where the item is automatically loaded into your Mavatar cart.  From there, Mavatar automatically searches through hundreds of available deals, applying the best and valid ones.

Well, why couldn’t I just do that myself? Because the actual process can take hours.  In fact, Susan Akbarpour, co-founder of Mavatar, said that the average person going through the “promo-hunt” process spends eight hours from start to finish to purchase a product online.

The process she is specifically referring to includes finding a product, comparing prices on multiple websites and then searching for a valid promo code on a number of other third party sites.

“Many of these coupon codes are publicly available, but they are usually applicable to only 3 to 5 percent of the entire inventory of that site, so they are sending them out, people are trying them, they either expired or are not valid or not applicable to that certain product, and this search takes an average of 8 hours for a normal smart shopper to do,” Akbarpour said.  “So what we did is reduce this time to average 1.2 seconds.”

And the whole thing is kind of magical.  I downloaded the add-on and added a few items to my cart and watched the promo code cycle through hundreds of coupons like a slot machine in a Las Vegas casino until it landed on the promo code that gave me the best discount for the applicable product.  It then showed my discount in the window, and all that work I used to put myself through, was completed for me, seamlessly, in seconds.


When you want to pay, you click checkout and are automatically redirected back to the store’s shopping cart where you can purchase the item.  The promo codes that Mavatar found for your item is also automatically applied to your cart.  Mavatar allows you to see multiple items in multiple stores and lets you click back and forth easily to see each discounted price.  It also allows you to have a wish list and manually input any private or one-time use only coupons you may have for later use.

Akbarpour, who co-founded Mavatar with former Oracle Vice President Brom Mahbod, Ph.D.,  said that big brands are embracing Mavatar because, unlike, which caters to small to mid-sized businesses, big brands don’t have a decision-type engine that can help the shopper.

“[Big brands] don’t want to be listed in Amazon, Amazon dilutes their brand and disconnects them from their end customer,” Akbarpour said.  “So that’s why this downloadable product, or app, that we have created is very popular with the great brands because they usually don’t have the technology that the modern smart shopper wants, their focus is not really on technology; their focus is on selling and manufacturing and design.”

Mavatar was developed for the non-tech savvy in mind, which is why its user-interface is so simple.  But don’t let that fool you.  While the user interface may seem overly simple, there’s a lot going on in the back end.  Akbarpour said that Mavatar was developed over two and a half years by nine full-time engineers and seven PhD’s in Computer Science.  The most difficult part was integrating all of the different shopping cart platforms into one universal cart (which she was told  was an impossible task at one point by a Stanford professor).

“There’s little standards with all these e-commerce platforms that different stores are using.  Even within the stores, we can see there’s lot going on in any of these shopping carts,” Akbarpour said.  “So for us to bring a standard to all these e-commerce platforms used by these big retailers, was an amazing job to do.”

Mavatar’s free browser add-on app has been released in beta, and they are launching their iPad app in #SFbeta in San Francisco on May 8.

“We have some more features coming in the next phases,” Akbarpour said  “We have four-year product roadmap that honestly, I can say it completely changes the way that you shop.”

I can honestly say, it has already changed the way I shop.  I can’t wait to see what’s next…

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