The secret to haggling in Marrakech’s famous souks

By February 8, 2016 Travel Blog
spices at souk in marrakech

How to embrace haggling in the maze of Marrakech’s street markets

Haggling is something of a national sport in Morocco, and we know it, but most English people, and most Western Europeans, get terribly flustered when the price tag is missing. We are used to looking around the shops, seeing what’s there and at what price and be pretty much left alone by shop keepers, until we are ready to buy or ask a question about a product. Haggling is not in our blood.

If you are planning to go on a holiday to Marrakech, then you will have to learn to haggle or you will be perceived as rude, worse, ripped off. The honeycomb of intricately-connected alleyways housing Marrakech’s famous souks, or street markets, are rightly famous, and we Westerners love to visit them, gaze and listen, but when the stall sellers recognise a possible sale, greet you, and a response is required, you need to know how to react. So, here are some tips that might help you master the art of haggling in Marrakech:

souk in Marrakech

A seller at one of Marrakech’s famous souks

Be polite and smile whether you want to buy or not

So here are a few do’s and don’t’s when haggling in the famous souks in Marrakech: Remember haggling is a social, not purely commercial interaction. Always be polite and good-humoured, and if you’re serious about buying something, accept the mint tea you’re offered, and enjoy the stories you will be told. Smile and enjoy. You’re in no hurry. It could take time, but you’re on holiday in Marrakech, so try to embrace the local custom!

Don’t begin the bargaining process unless you’re actually serious about buying the item. Just smile and move on. Start out hesitant. Hmmm… You’re not sure if you need that tea pot. Make him work for his money, while remaining polite. Show you’re in love with something, and you lose your bargaining power.

Djemaa el-Fnaa souk

Marrakech’s most famous square, Djemaa el-Fnaa, with its market stalls, snake charmers and story tellers

The art of haggling

Now it gets serious. The rule of thumb is to offer between a third of what the souk seller initially quotes, and go from there. And be prepared for the laughter or feigned outrage which will accompany the first price you offer. It’s not a problem or a put-down; it’s a process. You’re in Marrakech, not in M&S.

Stick to your guns. Good bargainers will be prepared to walk away from any purchase – but you have to be serious about this. If the salesman wants to sell it to you, he’ll come and find you, even if you’re halfway across the souk.

If you really can’t or don’t want to pay the price offered, decline politely and walk away. You may be followed, but probably not or not for long. Remember that what you’re haggling over may be just a few euros, and you may just prefer to avoid the hassle and pay the price asked. That’s OK.

Traditional Moroccan lanterns

A stall with traditional Moroccan lanterns

The right price

There’s no such thing as the ‘right price’. Items don’t come with a price tag and are sold at the price buyers are prepared to pay. If you’re happy with your purchase, then you’ve paid the right price. Don’t feel you have gone way over the odds. And never feel bad about paying too little for something. The guy wouldn’t have sold it to you if he wasn’t making a profit. And you’ve got the intricately designed lantern you wanted – at a price you’re probably both happy with.

Commission is a custom

If this is your first time in Morocco and you are feeling a little unsure about how to navigate the maze of the souks, ask your hotel for a guide. He will safely guide you around the Medina for a reasonable price and tell you lots of historical facts and titbits that you do not find in your pocket guide. Having a local guide will also prevent unwanted attention.

Marrakech street in souk in medina

Picture: a typical street in the Medina

If you you know what you want to buy, don’t tell your guide. He will, no doubt, know the best location – the shop or stall of his uncle or second cousin, and he will take you to the stalls where he gets a hefty kickback for having taken you there – and your final price will be inflated as a result. There is nothing wrong with that, it is part of his income, and what everyone does in Marrakech. But if you don’t want to pay over the odds, stay quiet and find your own vendor. Your guide will wait, but he will not get involved in any haggling, After a day or two at the souks, you will find that haggling in Marrakech is actually a painless and charming process. In fact, if you can get the seller to laugh, you are half way there to getting the item you wanted at a price you were happy to pay. So, enjoy and don’t get stressed out when sellers are persistent or even follow you. It’s all part of the process of haggling in Marrakech.

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