My first foray into haggling took place around ten years ago, maybe longer. And, rather than being in a Moroccan souk, I was in a cute boutique on Columbia Road in London, eyeing up some porcelain mugs that were priced up individually. Having recently watched some programme or other recommending the benefits of haggling (I am easily influenced), I summoned the courage to ask the shop-owner if she would consider a discount if I bought four of the mugs. Full of hope and promise, I looked at her expectantly…and she rolled her eyes, took a breath, and said ‘No’. So obviously I was mortified, bought all four mugs at full price (I know!) and that was me done with haggling. Until last December…
With some trepidation I realised that if I was going to do some serious interiors shopping in Marrakech without being taken for a ride, I was going to have to haggle. This made me feel a little nauseous, but my love of pom pom blankets and filigree brass lamps was stronger. So I decided to prepare myself. Want to know how I went from sweaty-palmed, fear-filled haggle novice to confident bargain-grabber? Good, cause I’m going to tell you how to haggle in the souks to get a fair price. And if you haven’t seen my post on interiors shopping in Marrakech, then you can check it out here.
Preparation, preparation, preparation. Before I travelled to Morocco, I looked up the current exchange rate for various amounts of money so that I wouldn’t be worrying about converting amounts in my head. Ok, so this may not be necessary for some, but frankly, I’m a bit thick with numbers. So I made a list of amounts (from £10 up to about £150 and their equivalents in Moroccan Dirhams) and kept it with me throughout the trip. It meant that I instantly knew roughly how much each item cost when talking to stall holders and it was one less thing to worry about.
I also looked online to see how much the items I had on my lust-list were selling for back home. That gave me a reference point so I’d know if I was significantly over, or under, paying for something. The last thing I did before leaving was to decide how much I was comfortable spending on each of the items I wanted. This was a super important step – I’ll come on to why later on.
2. Shop around
I’ve read quite a few guides that recommend buying from the first few stalls you visit, on the grounds that you’ll never find those stalls again. I disagree. Sure, it is tricky to navigate the souks (and with my sense of direction, that difficulty is magnified), but it is far from impossible. Amongst the crazy maze of stalls there are landmark points of reference. Café Bougainvillea was ours (and bonus, it’s a lovely spot for snacks and refreshments). There are also fountains, ornate doors and other memorable spots that can help you get back to that stall with the amazing [insert dream item here]. We went back to one place a few times as the pom-pom blankets were both good quality and fairly priced, and the stall holder was fabulously good fun. If you read this Abdelsalem – you’re a star!
My advice is to shop around. Lots of stalls sell similar items, and yes, most of the prices asked for will be broadly similar, but the stallholders are all different. Some are more fun than others, some more willing to haggle, and the quality of the merchandise can differ too. You should always be careful to look for whether an item is hand or machine stitched, and whether the traditional slippers (babouches) are plastic and glued (usually cheap tat) or leather and hand-stitched (much better).
3. Let the bartering begin
Ok, so you’ve spotted something you rather fancy. Chances are just by remotely looking in the direction of it, the stall holder will be next to you trying to show you everything he has for sale. This is fine. Keep smiling, take a deep breath and think. Are you genuinely interested in buying the item? If so, then feel free to ask how much he wants for it. I’ll wager that his response will be for much more than the price you actually want to pay.
My tactic (based on some advice a friend of mine gave me) was usually to offer about a third of that price (knowing it would be refused by the stallholder). Most times this generated a ‘you’re crazy’ look, shortly followed by a slightly better offer price that allows proper negotiations to start. One time though the stallholder actually walked off in disgust in response to my offer! I thought this was a little less than sporting (and I would have eventually paid more, so his loss), but the overwhelming response from stallholders was one of friendly bartering resulting in a price that worked for both parties.
Think of it this way – the stallholder will have a bottom line that he will not go under in order to get a sale. Likewise, you should have an upper limit that you are prepared to pay. Provided this limit is realistic and a fair price, you should absolutely stick to this and be prepared to walk away. You’ll be surprised how much lower prices can drop when you start walking away from the stall – and if they don’t chase after you, you’d already hit their bottom line and to get the item at the price you wanted would probably result in no or minimal profit for them. And that’s not really what this game is about now is it?
It’s also important to remember that as a tourist you will be paying higher prices than a local for whatever you’re buying. But that doesn’t mean you’re being ripped off. And this is where my earlier point about deciding what you’re prepared to pay comes into play. At the end of the day, what’s important is getting an item that you love at a price that you are happy with. So what if someone else got the same thing for a few quid lower? Provided you’re content with what you paid, then just relax, be happy and enjoy the experience. I’m actually not that comfortable with the pride taken by the hardcore hagglers. Sure, it must be satisfying to walk away with a real steal, but I have no problem with putting an extra few quid in the pocket of the stallholders who have to work pretty hard to make a living in a country full of poverty. Maybe I’m a softie, but I came home with two pom-pom blankets at less than half the price they’re being offered for sale online. For me, that’s a win.
4. Don’t be a meanie
Do not engage in bartering with a stallholder if you have no intention of buying the item. That’s a waste of their time and will probably result in them getting pretty annoyed with you, which is not a great holiday experience. I should stress that this is not the same as walking away if you can’t get the price you want. I enquired about a wedding blanket that I really liked but the starting price was so high, I wasn’t convinced the stall holder was ever going to get down to the amount I wanted to pay. So I said thankyou and left it at that. No worries, no hassle. It helped me to realise that the price I had mind was simply too low (next time bigger budget!).
5. Enjoy the crazy
One last thing – haggling is meant to be fun rather than stressful, so do try to enjoy it. Keep smiling and engage in banter and small talk. It nearly always goes down well and can earn you additional goodwill! And always remember that no-one can force you to buy anything. Be prepared to stand your ground, walk away and not look back. While most are good fun and just want to get a good deal for both you and them, some stallholders are just jerks.
I would absolutely love to hear your stories of haggling overseas. What advice do you have for newbie hagglers? What are your top tips on how to haggle in the souks to get a fair price?
Happy travels, and shopping