Shopping in Marrakech is one of the best ways to scout out a bargain, find souvenirs and gifts to take back home and interact with the locals. You can find everything in Marrakech’s souks (markets) from leather goods to lanterns, carpets to ceramics, kaftans to knick-knacks, fragrant spices to colourful sequinned sandals. There are some fantastic discoveries to be found if you’re patient enough to search. However, shopping in Marrakech is an intense experience, especially compared to shopping in Europe or North America. The approach to selling to customers and haggling is dramatically different from how it’s done in other countries. As a result, shopping in souks can be intimidating.
Moroccans are well-versed in the art of haggling and if you look like a tourist, you’ll be hit with the vendor’s initial tourist price. It is likely to be much, much higher than you’d expect to pay, but don’t take offence. It’s just the first step in the process: vendors overcharge tourists at first because they expect you to bring the price down with them. In this post, I’d like to share some tips for bartering with market vendors, and how to agree a price which you are both satisfied with.
- Take a day or two to browse the market stalls to get an idea of the prices and options. Don’t feel pressurised to buy the first item you see. The souks are full of similar products, so you don’t have to buy from the first stall you see.
- Start at a third of the original offer. That way you can slowly edge up to a price you’d willing to pay, while the vendor can drop their offer down bit by bit. For example if you want to pay €10 for something, offer around €3 or €4 and see how the vendor responses.
- Don’t appear too enthusiastic. Like in a poker game, play it cool and don’t reveal your cards all at once. Instead, keep it smile, light-hearted and try to have banter with the vendor.
- Pay in cash. Shop owners may give you the option to use a credit card but they’ll have to pay a fee on your purchase so the price will be higher.
- Carry small denominations of coins and notes in the local currency, Morocco Dirham. If a vendor sees you have a large note in your wallet, he will try to charge you more.
- If you absolutely fall in love with something, don’t make the mistake of thinking “I’ll come back and buy it tomorrow”. Marrakech’s Medina (Old Town) is a labyrinth of lanes and passages, and you are unlikely to find that specific stall again.
- If the vendor is being very rigid in the haggling process, you have two choices: pay more than you’d like if it’s something you really want or feign disinterest and walk away. The latter can be effective, as the vendor might become a bit more flexible. If not, you can try your luck with another vendor.
- You may have more luck haggling at the end of the day, when vendors are keen to make a sale before they close. Souks normally close around 8pm or 9pm.
- If you’re in a shop that has more than one item you want, group them together and bargain for the total price. You’ll be able to get a better deal for more than one item.
- If it feels like the vendor is being rude or is clearly trying to rip you off, don’t give him your business.
If the thought of wandering through the maze-like Medina worries you, you could hire a professional guide to show you around and help you get your bearings. Your guide can also suggest some places to eat and explain the process of haggling and what to expect. And if the souks really aren’t for you, you will also find stylish boutiques, luxury stores and high street staples like H&M and Zara in Marrakech’s so-called nouvelle ville (new city).
I hope these tips will be helpful the next time you’re shopping in a Moroccan souk. They really are a treasure trove for unforgettable mementos, and if you’re happy to give haggling a try, you can find some fantastic bargains. Give haggling a go, and have fun with it. While some relish the opportunity to barter, it doesn’t come easy to everyone. Like with any skill – practice makes perfect!
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow