While shopping in the souks of the Marrakesh medina, you will likely find yourself in a “shop ‘til you drop” mentality. The large, maze-like warren of shops will totally overwhelm the first-time, foreign inexperienced buyer. Marrakesh will not be a disappointment for any type of shopper.
One of the main things to avoid while shopping in these areas is being taken advantage of. Try to be rested, ready to bargain hard, and most importantly, remain cool as a cucumber whe negotiating deals. I have always believed shopping to be a sport, so you must be on top of your game when purchasing items in countries where haggling is the norm.
Here is my list of bargaining tips when shopping the fabulous souks of Marrakesh.
1. Always do pre- trip research to find what are the unique, well-priced items available in Marrakesh.
Caftans, babouche shoes, ethnic jewelry, carpets, spices, filigree lamps, and all type of leather goods are Moroccan specialties.
2. Make a target list of what you want to buy and how much you want to spend.
Keeping in mind the potential purchase of gifts, souvenirs and personal items is an absolute must because you will be so tempted to “throw caution to the wind” in Marrakesh. Likewise, the number of vendors selling a wide range of wonderful items might overwhelm you.
3. Try not to buy anything the first day you visit the souks.
Use the your first day of your visit to the souks to get an overview of Moroccan goods. Ask various shopkeepers their prices of the items that catch your eye. If there is something you really want, get the vendor’s business card with the shop’s address so you can come back in the next day or two and begin to bargain for that particular desired item. Buying restraint shows the seller you are not an easy sale, like so many other tourists.
4. Decide what you are willing to pay for an item, not the vendor’s asking price, and get ready to haggle.
I have found most dealers will start at three to four times the amount they are willing to settle for on an item. For example, if I like something that is quoted for $100 I will offer $20. Usually the reaction I get is a frown and a look as if they were saying “this is way to low or a ridiculous offer.” The vendor will likely come back with a counteroffer of $75, and I’ll suggest $25. This goes back and forth until someone gives in.
Typically, the seller will let a $100 item go for $50 quite easily. Your goal is to get them between $25 and $35. If sales are not good for the month, week or day, more times than not, you will walk away with your item at "your" desired price. The seller will grumble but that’s to be expected. When engaging in shopping as a sport, the loser is never happy.
5) Arrive at the souks when they open and try to be their first purchaser of the day.
In many countries where haggling is the norm, there is a cultural bias or a superstition that if a vendor is unsuccessful with the first customer and he/she leaves the shop without purchasing something the vendor will have a bad day. I have scored some of my best deals by being someone’s first customer.
6) Buy more than one of an item.
This is a “retail given” in many areas of the world. If you buy several items or buy in bulk, the price per item goes down, sometimes considerably. I usually do this when buying souvenirs for friends and family. On this trip to Marrakesh I purchased six pashmina scarves for $8 per item which were originally quoted at $25-$35 for one. Score!
7) Dress simply and don’t give the impression you have money to blow.
Typically, when shopping I dress down and wear very little makeup which gives the impression I am not a big spender or an easy target. Along these same lines, I let the vendor know I have a tight budget and don’t have unlimited funds. This sets the tone for the negotiations. If you approach a seller well dressed or with an expensive designer bag, your chances of getting a stellar deal are greatly decreased.
8) Befriend the shopkeeper by asking a lot of questions.
I have discovered the more time you spend in a store talking with a merchant the more likely you will get a better deal. In many countries where bargaining is the norm, the merchant wants to do business with someone they like. In Marrakesh, you will be offered a cup of mint tea, a gesture of Moroccan hospitality, which you should always accept. Newfound friendships foster good shopping karma! Try to befriend the merchant and you’ll be amazed at how this practice will work magic when haggling.
9) Pay in cash.
Cash is still king in world markets where bargaining takes place. Many vendors now take credit/debit cards but usually you get a slightly better deal if you pay in cash. Also, if you limit your purchases to cash transactions you will be less likely to wreck your shopping budget.
10) Never shop when hungry or tired.
I can’t stress this last tip enough. Often when I’m hungry or tired I can’t think straight and this is when I’m most vulnerable to be taken advantage of by a persistent and cunning seller. If you feel your energy waning, take a break and return when you are refreshed.
Take a tour inside the souks in Marrakesh below: