Bartering in the Souks

Shopping in Marrakech can be a significant part of the visitor experience. But for some the thought of bartering in the souk fills them with dread and leads them to avoid the experience.

In reality the principles are pretty simple. In the UK's fixed price system if you see a vase on a shelf you often form a judgement of what price you are prepared to pay before turning the vase to reveal the price on the bottom. If the price is somewhere near the price in your head you will give it further thought. If it is more expensive you will probably walk away.

The bartering system in Morocco is essentially based on the notion that the same item will have a different value to different people. It is acceptable for you and your friend to pay a different price for the same item. For example, if you have been searching the souks for hours and you find a vase that is the right shade of blue, the right size and the right shape (in other words is "absolutely perfect") it is likely that you are prepared to pay more for it than your friend who has only just started to search the souks and is actually looking for a red vase. The seller knows to tempt your friend he will have to sell it for less than he will sell it to you. It is not a case of ripping you off but a case that the vase is worth more to you than it is to your friend. Many visitors have a fear of getting ripped off. Here are a few tips to assist.

  • There are no clear rules about only paying half or a third of the initial asking price. Some sellers over inflate and some do not. Have a clear idea how much you are prepared to pay for the item. How much is it worth to you? Aim for that when negotiating.

  • Don't give too much information. The more information the seller knows about your requirements and how much you want the item the less likely he will negotiate.

  • Don't forget it is easier to understand a foreign language than it is to speak it. You and your friend having a discussion in English will almost certainly be understood. Look at the item and talk it over out of sight of the seller.

  • Be as kind and pleasant as possible. It is much harder to bargain with someone who is courteous than it is with someone you don't like. The majority of sellers will be absolutely charming; you need to be the same.

  • Don't try to negotiate if in a hurry. Bartering takes time. Especially if it is a high value item such as a carpet. But, no matter how long it takes never feel obliged to buy. Charm, time, and mint tea do not bind you into buying.

  • Finally, don't be tempted to over think the experience. It is all theatre and all part of the Moroccan experience. If you manage to get an item for the price you were prepared to pay then I would consider this a success.

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