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:
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
-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