How hard can it be to haggle?

The Souks of Marrakech

The Souks of Marrakech

This is where I tell you that haggling is easy right?  Wrong!  For me it’s something I struggle with and my husband doesn’t find it any easier.  So how do two complete novices in the art of bartering prepare?  We enlist help.

Before attempting to haggle our very good friends offered to give us a master class – would this help?  Maybe?

They were after some mats for their kitchen plates.  Lovely, hand woven mats in a beautiful deep mulberry colour.  Now back home, you walk into the shop see what you like, pick it up and purchase it – job done.  Not in Morocco.  Here you look but don’t pick up to begin with, never look too eager apparently, walk away to the next stall, then walk back again and pick up on this occasion.  Now the interaction beginning (this is the bit that both my husband and I hate and the sickie feeling is back just writing about it!!!!).

“Very nice.  How much?”

“300dhs”

A bit of theatrically face pulling, “No – 50Dhs”

A blow out of the cheeks, “200Dhs”

A shake of the head, “30Dhs for two mats?”

At this point I think the poor man in front of me is about to have a heart attack and I consider slinking off, pretending I am not with them.  I look around to say something to my husband to see if he agrees but he is nowhere to be seen.  He has already evaporated into the crowds and I can see him, with his back purposely turned towards us, looking at the turtles in the corner of the square.

Swinging back around to find out whether our friends have got their way I see them being marched off to a different stall and being shown some less desirable products, “these 30Dhs for two”.  Outwardly I cringe whilst inwardly I am smiling because I can see by the expression on my friends faces that this defenceless man does not know what is about to hit him, I have seen this look before, they are plotting which is never a good thing.

With a flurry, all the mats are placed on the floor and at break neck speed they are off, refusing to engage in conversation anymore, acting as if they have been insulted.  They are heading my way and it looks like they are counting – surely not!  Or are they?  Then it happens.

“Wait! Please”

“Yes”

“Ok, I will do you two mats -30dhs”

“The two I wanted?”

“Yes”

“OK, but I will now only pay 15dhs”

(The man ponders….)

“OK” (He knows when he is defeated!!!!)

Almost skipping back to the stall, 15dh in hand my friend happily laughs with the stall owner knowing that she has got an extremely good bargain.

Suddenly my husband reappears, having watched the excitement from across the way, distancing himself just in case.  “So, that’s how it’s done?” I hear him say.  His tone is reserved and I sense straight away that whilst he wishes he could do it like that we both know that our purchases will not be quite so cheap.

I keep telling myself, they have been many times before, it’s an art form.  What I need to remember is that no stall holder is going to sell anything they are not making a profit on.  So whilst it seemed harsh and their mats, in fact, only cost them about £1.11, the stall holder clearly still made a profit (unbelievable I know!) if not he wouldn’t have sold them.

Rue Riad Zitoun, Marrakech, Morrocco. Home of the fixed price shops

Rue Riad Zitoun: home to the fixed price shops

This was clearly going to take time.  Before I started haggling I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to insult anyone.  Whilst the Moroccans are welcoming the last thing I wanted to do was upset them, likewise, I didn’t want to offer a price that had then laughing at me for weeks after, reliving my stupidity over a glass of mint tea.  So we headed off in search of the fixed price shops that now exist in the side streets.  One great location for these is Rue Riad Zitoun off Jemaa-el-Fna.  You will find everything from pottery to leather goods and artwork here.  We actually purchased our pottery goods from this street in the end after our haggling attempts went awry as it worked out cheaper for us.  The father and son team clearly felt so sorry for us that they even gave us a discount after we retold our pathetic haggling story.  These, on reflection, are probably the pair that are still laughing at us over their mint tea.

Babouches: traditional Moroccan slippers

Babouches: traditional Moroccan slippers

moroccan scarfs

moroccan scarfs

 

Lighting in the moroccan souks

Maybe a new light shade?

Not all of our haggling attempts were unsuccessful though.  We did walk away with some lovely scarfs for gifts and a pair of sandals for myself at less than half the price we started at.  That was a top tip given to us by Nicolas at Riad Camilia.  Aim for half the starting price and both you and the vendor have walked away winners; you have gotten a good price and they have made money.  I think that this is important to remember.  Yes you want a good deal but it is also about adding to the economy and putting money into the pockets of the local community.  So, with this in mind, we felt quite good about our haggling experience in the end.

leather goods in the souks

Or some leather goods?

Leather photo frames in the morocan souks

Photo anyone????

Local moroccan artwork

Maybe you would prefer some local artwork?

Cakes in the souks in Marrakech

Finally, when you are all shopped out maybe a sugar rush is required!

I will never be an aggressive haggler I know that, but then I am not really a shopper so I don’t think I will ever need to worry too much.  I wanted to experience buying in the Souks which we achieved but next time we return it will be a day at the flea markets for me I think to see how I get on there.  I might need someone like Nicolas in tow with me for that one though!!!

Our Top Tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to walk away – there are plenty of stalls selling the same products so you can try again at another stall.
  • Remember the vendor is only going to sell if they are making money.
  • Have a price in mind when you start and stick to it.
    Night time in the souks of Marrakech

    At night peace is restored

    Night time in the souks of Marrakech

    Ready for another day

10 Comments

  • Bob R says:

    I’m not much of a shopper and not much of a haggler, either. But as I’ll be spending about 10 days in and around Marakech in September, I suppose I’ll have to give both a try. 🙂 By the way I like the ‘day is done’ images the best.

  • I’ve done a haggling/negotiating in my life… and never been too shy about it. Prices fluctuate widely. When the cruise ship is in, they skyrocket, for example. There is nothing like a rich tourist to make your day or possibly your week. And there is almost always a local’s price and an outsider’s price. The goal is to get closer to what a local would pay for the same item. Here’s a close example that isn’t bargaining. You drive down a freeway and stop for gas at the gas station on the intersection. Let’s say you pay $3.75 per gallon. Drive half mile into town and the gas is $3.40. Are you contributing to the local economy by buying the $3.75 or being taken advantage of? –Curt

    • I think some things are always more emotive than others, and the price of petrol is definitely one of them. I agree I would never want someone to feel that they have been taken advantage of but for the most part, when in Marrakech, we are haggling for handmade goods and the difference in price is pence. For us, this may seem like a small win, but for them, individuals that earn nothing near the wage of an American or European, that could mean considerable more. Yes, you could argue that tourists go in daily and they probably earn a fortune from them, but that may be just the main stalls close to the squares…what about the ones in the heart of the souks that some of us wander around in the hope that we will get lost and mingle with the locals. Chances are we start the haggling process off at half the price the we would have done had we have been closer to the tourist routes anyway. For me, the price wasn’t necessarily as important as having a go. I knew what I was prepared to pay and I think if I am truthful I still got my goodies a great deal cheaper than many of our ‘tourist’ counterparts! 🙂

      • Well thought out, thanks. And I get the third world concern. I do believe in supporting the local economy… and recognize the need. Part of my experience in bargaining is that many of the locals expect you to and double the price. You end up getting a “bargain” and they end up making a profit. Everyone is happy.:) Exploitation is something else. Ugly.

        BTW… have you ever bargained for a car? –Curt

        • When travelling I have never bargained for a car, I normally search the Internet looking for a price I am happy to pay. At home, if I am looking to buy a new car, I do tend to barter over the price a little. I think it is almost expected here though. Most people add ono (or nearest offer) after the price so I think everyone exploits that and adds to the price to begin with. Same with house prices I would always go in with a lower offer so I suppose the skills are very similar. Maybe it was the environment in Marrakech – I knew I was getting a good deal and in reality it was cheap so I didn’t mind. Even if the locals would have paid even less for it. Is there anything you have struggled with when trying to negotiate on price? 🙂

          • There were a few times in Liberia when I just haggled enough to be proper and I never haggled over food/basic necessities. Liberians barely got by. I haggled more when the Mandingo traders would come by our house with a gunny sack full of artifacts. They’d dump out the contents on our floor and away we’d go. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, our income was similar. 🙂 –Curt

          • That sounds like a fascinating experience.

  • I think the trick is acting like you don’t really care. But sometimes that’s so hard because I get so excited when I see something I like that I can’t contain my excitement – and they know they have me! I’m toast at that point!

  • It is something I can say I have experienced but will not be something I do on a regular basis. Going to the fixed priced shops was a less stressful experience for me 🙂

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