Morocco is a fabulous destination for shopping. There is a huge selection of wares, antiques, trinkets, fashion items and souvenirs to buy. I don’t travel just for shopping but Morocco is a great place to be tempted, at least it’s one reason to go. Thanks to a strong artisan tradition, Morocco places great value on crafting unique wares, and it’s easy to pick up some great souvenirs. However, haggling is an essential part of shopping and this is the best guide to successful haggling in Morocco!
Shopping is so tempting that you may need to plan an extra bag in your Morocco packing list.
In this article, I have selected the best day trips from Marrakech.
Do Your Research
If you are serious about shopping and haggling in Morocco (and who wouldn’t be?), I recommend you do some research beforehand. Some of the markets can be quite overwhelming, and it’s easy to lose your head and buy useless trinkets. With its long artisan tradition, Morocco has a great mix of “market level” production and finer designer goods. Whether you are into ceramics, leather or antiques, it’s certainly worth doing a bit of research ahead of your trip.
Over the years, I have found that if I don’t know what I want or what would fit in my house or personal style, I end up buying things I don’t need. And I really don’t like buyers’ regret! It makes feel terribly guilty…
Also, you need to check the quality of the items you are buying. Whilst Morocco has a strong handmade industry, it’s not immune to cheap imports from China… The quality of garments or wares in the medina can be poor. So, while you are browsing and trying to look disinterested, pay attention to the quality of what you’re buying. I much prefer to buy something that will last the distance… And of course, some items have bigger markups than others. Rugs, lighting fixtures, mirrors and authentic jewellery have fairly high markups, while baskets, clothing and leather items tend to have lower ones.
Visit Fixed Price Stores
If you are visiting Marrakech, I can also recommend visiting the “Ensemble Artisanal”, a state-owned centre with fixed prices. The wares on sale are exactly the same as the ones in the medina, but the fixed prices give you a fair idea of what you should pay when you haggle in the medina. I found that it was helpful when getting ready to do some haggling in Morocco.
It’s a Game
Haggling is probably one of the most daunting things for travellers visiting Morocco, along with driving along beautiful and sometimes dangerous roads. If haggling or price negotiating is not part of your culture, you might find the exercise very awkward. In Morocco, however, everyone does it. All day, every day, and about everything. Haggling is certainly not limited to tourist areas, however less travelled places like Tangier or Chefchaouen or even Tetouan might easier to navigate in that respect. Also, it’s a game. Although the purpose of haggling is serious, buying goods at the best price, the exercise plays like a game. The seller starts high, the buyer starts low and you go backwards and forwards a few times before reaching a price suitable for both parties… If you see it as a game, you will have fun so don’t be afraid of giving it a go!
Don’t Act Too Interested
When haggling in Morocco, your demeanour is very important. One important trick is to act cool and slightly disinterested… If your desire for an object is too obvious, the seller will take advantage of it. Getting the price down will be more difficult. Even if you have your eye on something specific, I would recommend browsing for a little while and taking your time. And if you can, avoid leaving the store only to come back later. That one is quite obvious to sellers, they will know instantly that something caught your eye.
Take Your Time
Time is valued in Morocco. People can be a little formal in their greetings and small talk, so it’s important to take your time if you want to haggle successfully. Because haggling is a game, you have to follow certain rules and time is one of them. Having said that, quick negotiations can happen for small items. If you are aiming to buy large and expensive items like antiques or rugs, I would recommend having plenty of time and progressing slowly in the negotiation…
In the medina, sellers will often encourage you to buy more or to buy several copies of the same item. I find that a little annoying at times because I always try to pace myself and not buy things that will end up at the back of the closet… However, this tactic can be useful. If you find a stall that sells a good selection of items, it can be worth your while. The haggling will be about a selection of things, and while the price increases, it will also increase the value of the trade.
One of the things to know about Morocco is that people are quite friendly and hospitable. They are proud of their heritage and expect visitors to be respectful of their custom. When haggling, it’s very important to always be humorous and polite. Moroccans love a bit of small talk and will love to hear your travel stories, where you’re from and where you’re travelling to. This is useful in the haggling process, in setting a friendly tone. Showing any kind of annoyance or impatience is counterproductive. Sometimes it’s not easy because the pressure to buy can be overwhelming. But I would recommend haggling when you are at your best, enjoying your travels and having fun. If it’s a down day, maybe leave it to later.
Pay Cash and Carry Small Denominations
The vast majority of transactions in the medina are in cash. If you carry small denominations, it will be easier to claim you have small means! Paying cash will also give you an advantage in the transaction. Also, don’t show your money until the price is firmly agreed.
Only Start Haggling if You Are Serious About Buying
As haggling is reasonably strictly coded, the understanding goes that, if you start the process, you intend to finish. Sellers can be quite offended if you ask for a price, start to haggle, only to say that you don’t really intend to buy. Don’t forget, it’s just as easier for the sellers to give you a price and expect you to pay it. So, if they’re investing the time to negotiate with you, it means they are serious about the transaction. On that point, it is common practice for sellers to offer you a glass of mint tea. You don’t have to accept but if you do, it means you are serious about buying.
Be Firm When You Reach the Right Price
It often happens that sellers will try and sell you more quantities or more things that you want or need. I find this pressure a little overwhelming sometimes and I’ve had firm discussions with sellers, telling them not to push me too hard. If they sense that you are offended by their manner, most of them will pull back, and even apologise. If you play the game of haggling, you should expect the sellers to respect you. So, when you reach a price you deem fair, be firm, and you will win.
Be Prepared to Walk Away
If the negotiation doesn’t yield the good price you want, you can certainly walk away. I even use this as a technique to get the price I want. For example, I take my shoes off to try the slippers on, and when the guy doesn’t want to drop his price, I put them back on. It’s a little more drastic and you do take the risk of missing out altogether, but the people in the medina don’t like to miss out on a sale. They will easily chase you down the alley and agree to your final price!
The Rule of Thirds
Haggling is pretty freeform, but if you want to follow some rules, you can pay attention to the thirds and quarters. When the seller gives you a price, quarter it and use that as your starting point. They will laugh at you, it’s part of the game, and the haggling begins. And the price to pay would be a third or a half of the initial price… That’s a rough guide but it’s pretty flexible. When it comes to haggling, the right price is the one you are happy to pay.
Compare Prices in Your Own Currency
Haggling is not necessarily about beating the price down to the lowest possible level. Bear in mind that most of the sellers you will meet are working hard to make ends meet and not necessarily making a lot of money out of the transaction. I always try and compare prices in my own currency and assess whether it’s worth a tough haggle. Sometimes I’m happy to pay a price close to what the seller wants, especially for the small things.
The Deal is Done!
Once the deal is done, you are welcome to continue the conversation for a little while. If both you and the seller are happy with the transaction, it will be a very nice travel experience! Shopkeepers are usually very keen on good customer service and will make sure your item is wrapped properly and handed to you with a smile.
Some items are too big to carry and some shopkeepers have shipping solutions. However, this can be quite expensive. If you have the option to carry your shopping home in your luggage, it’s probably the best way. You can also buy additional luggage in the medina to fit all your purchases. As an alternative, you can ship through FedEx or DHL, or even the Moroccan post. One thing to remember is to leave your items unpacked before you ship them, so they can be viewed by the customs officer. There will be someone to wrap and seal your items for a small fee. Also, there are options for cheaper and slower sea shipping.
And if shopping is not your thing and you are keen on the beaten track, I recommend visiting the Spanish Enclaves, discovering the Controversial Spanish Islands or following the Morocco Atlantic Coast.
I hope you enjoy your shopping and haggling experience in Morocco. Please tell me about your best wins in the comments below!
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