Aug 3, 2007

How To Buy A Carpet In Morocco - Top Bargaining Tips

In the medinas of Morocco’s Marrakesh and Fez, business is still conducted like it has been for centuries and an integral of part of that is bargaining. While a way of life in many cultures where price tags are non existent, haggling can be intimidating for the uninitiated.

Marrakesh is hardcore and one of the worst places in Morocco to buy a carpet. It’s a tourist mecca, resulting in a higher price to fleecing ratio. But since most first time visitors go to Marrakesh during some point of their trip I’ll focus on it. It’s the extreme. If you can haggle successfully there you can haggle anywhere.

Upon entering any carpet shop you will be offered a warm welcome and asked a series of questions, disguised as small talk, which are used to calculate how high your starting price will be. The carpet merchant, like any good salesman, is qualifying your spending potential. Here are some of the typical questions and a translation of their underlying meaning:

Where are you from? If you are from North America, Japan, Western Europe, The U.K. and Australia the starting price will be higher.

Have you been to Morocco/Marrakesh before? If you say no, the price goes up.

How long have you been in Marrakesh? The less time the higher the price.

How long have you been in Morocco? Same as above.

Haggling is a dance that requires time, patience and humor. You can easily spend a few hours from start to finish buying a carpet. During this time a plethora will be deftly unfolded and placed before you on the floor. There will be mint tea to drink. After a significant array has been displayed the process of elimination begins. Naturally don’t be overly enthusiastic when you’ve found something you like. While carpets you have given the thumbs down to are taken away expect to hear, “ Tell me which one you like, you are my first customer of the day so I’ll give you a special price and it will bring me good luck,” and similar variations.

When the elimination is complete it’s time for the grand finale--the big price reveal of your potential purchase. An outrageously high figure will be quoted. Exasperation and anger will get you nowhere. Offer a fraction of that price, a quarter perhaps, but do so with humility. Your offer will be met like an insult, with incredulous looks and a song and dance about the fine quality of the workmanship, the woman who worked six months weaving and other psychological warfare ploys to tap your guilt vault. It’s all part of the game. Keep your poker face and cool and smile periodically while the dramatics continue. They will be followed by a better price, at which point you up your ante a bit. This process is repeated until a price is agreed.

If , however, you reach an impasse on price there is one last move. Thank the merchant for his time, the good tea, apologize for not being able to afford his goods and walk to the door. About 99% of the time he will come after you asking your “final” best price or lowering his.

The big question of course is what is a fair price? What you are willing to pay is the right price. Keep a figure in mind and stick to it. To get an idea of prices I suggest visiting government run artist cooperatives, which are typically listed in the usual suspects of guide books. They have fixed prices and the quality is consistently good but the prices will be higher than if you successfully bargain. And of course you miss out on the experience.

Top Bargaining Tips:

-During the initial screening don’t say you just got to town
-If you like something don’t show it
-Keep your cool no matter how hard
-Be polite
-Don’t let the guilt ploys tug at your purse strings
-If you are quoted an overly outrageous price come back with an outrageously low counter offer to give you some leverage
-Prepare to spend a few hours
-Check out artists cooperatives to get an idea of price
-Know what your budget is and don’t exceed it
-Finally, if you really don’t want to purchase something don’t no matter what dramatics ensue

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

You seem to have done good research in this field. I agree that buying a carpet in Marrakesh is an art which may come with time and many $$$ spent. No diploma or degree course can ever teach this art.

Anonymous said...

hi, I'm going on a trip to Marrakesh next week. found your tips are very helpful. thanks.

Wendy said...

Hi,
Have a fantastic trip! Glad you found the tips useful and hope you come back with a gorgeous carpet :^)

Anonymous said...

LOL.. your tips are very true!.. I just got back from Marrakesh last night.. while on holiday over the past week... I purchsed 3 medium sized Berber carpets for total - $750US.... while one of them originally costs $800 and the others were supposed to be $160 each....Their prices are insanely high..... I was told that I bargained worse than their local Berber women!.. I wish I had walked out...I might have gotten all 3 for $500.... but the craftmanship is amazing... and you must give carpet haggling a try... it's definitely an experience.....

Anonymous said...

We were in Tanger and were brought to a local carpet house through a guide. We purchased a carpet we absolutley love, and based on the advice you gave, I think we did just fine. Whether our guide was in on the deal, we don't know, but we don't think so. He negotiated a price we never would have thought was possible. The bottom line is, we love the carpet and workmanship is incredible.

Thomas said...

Thanks for the post. I'm headed there in a few months. One thing I'm having trouble figuring out is how to get the thing back to the US? Do most people just cart a 8 foot long roll of carpet with them for the rest of their trip then spend hundreds in extras to put it on the plane? Do they ship it for you? Or do I just stick to small carpets that will fit in my suitcase.

Anonymous said...

Your tips are right on the money. We bought an approx. 8'x10' carpet. They started out the price at over $5000...we wound up buying it for $300. Not sure if that was a good price, but I had checked on prices at home before going there---and had already decided that was what we intended to pay. They offered to ship it to us, but my husband wound up carrying it out. They rolled it into a very small cylinder about 18inches in diameter and about 24 inches tall. My husband threw in on his shoulder and off we went. One of our favorite travel experiences! :-)

Wendy said...

Thomas, see what anonymous says below. The merchants are excellent at wrapping them.

Anonymous-Glad you triumphed!

YourMoroccoTour said...

Shopping or rather bargaining in Morocco might not be for everyone. I live in Marrakech for several months and it is extremely difficult as when I want to buy something and in spite of being with Moroccan the price goes automatically higher as I am foreigner. Sometimes if I like something I just take a note of it and then ask my husband to go and buy it for me.
Bargaining can be long long process and the shoppers might appear almost agressive to push you to buy. Please keep you cool and stick to your own price.

sidi_mo said...

i'm a moroccan rug dealer living in the states now. But you must understand, women really do spend months making these. They are works of art, and it is unfair to devalue our culture like so many buyers do when they come to the medinas. $300 is a very good deal on rugs. Do the math- see how much we are making on these items. It is very little.
Also, it is not a ploy when we say that you are the first customer. Often it is true. You should not be so suspicious, we are not all con artists. We want to share our beautiful culture with the world, but also feed our children.

yan min said...

SO beautiful! Thank you for sharing!” i love Moroccan Beni Ouarain Rugs. Check out some more examples of Moroccan Beni Ouarain rugs