Haggling in Morocco
Last Updated: 2020-04-01
There has been much talk and debate about how to haggle in Morocco, although most of the literature on the subject focuses on the seller and the aces he keeps up his sleeve.
I think it’s necessary to approach it from a different perspective, since most of the efforts of the seller are focused on detecting our weaknesses. In other words: our real enemy when it comes to getting a good price is ourselves.
Since buyers have several exploitable weaknesses today’s article is a bit longer than normal. Let’s get started!
You’re not doing him a favor and you’re not offending him
A 50 m2 (540 square feet) craft shop on a tourist street in Fez can be sold for approximately $60,000 US dollars. In Djema el Fna Square in Marrakech, a similar shop can easily exceed $100,000.
These numbers show you that, given the cost of living in Morocco, shop owners have a decent standard of living. So, don’t think that the seller’s kids are going to go hungry that day just because you try to get the best deal you can, or even if you decide not to make the purchase.
They are perfectly aware of this situation and will have no qualms about pretending to be deeply offended by your price offer. But obviously, it’s all fun and games to them.
Think about it, do you really feel that they will take it personally after dealing with dozens of potential buyers every day? Obviously not, but the fact that you feel guilty is a weakness that they can exploit.
An especially interesting strategy is the good cop-bad cop strategy that some sellers use: you give your low ball price to which the seller pretends to be terribly outraged by your boldness. Then his business partner approaches you and very kindly tells you not to worry about his reaction and gives you some friendly advice on the right price to ask for. It’s all a theatrical performance with the purpose of trying to make you feel guilty, and turn you into a “friendly buyer” putting the ball firmly in their court.
It’s also common before closing a deal, or even after having done so, for them to tell you that they are losing money. In the heat of bargaining you may believe it, but if you think about it with a cool head you will realize that it makes no sense for them to close a deal that causes them economic damage.
Just because they show you some hospitality doesn’t mean you’ve to buy
Shop owners like you to feel at home: they invite you to come in, give you tea, show all their products in the most exhaustive way possible… This has a dual reason: to offer their hospitality (deeply rooted in their culture) and make you feel guilty if you don’t buy something.
I am aware that in the face of kindness it’s difficult to keep a cool head, because after all we are sociable beings, but precisely because of how effective this strategy is, it’s more important to keep a calm attitude.
Don’t feel in debt because they offered you a tea or that you’re wasting their time: remember that it’s part of the costs and the risks that they must bear. In your country, if someone lets you try a sample of a product or if they tell you its benefits, do you feel obliged to buy it? Why would it be any different in Morocco?
I am going to tell you a little story that illustrates both this section and the previous one and that shows that I’ve also been weak.
One of the first times I traveled to Morocco I stayed in a tent in Merzouga. The first day we took a camel ride and on the way back I was approached by a guy who I thought was also responsible for our accommodations. Then he started a conversation with me.
He told me about the fauna of the desert, about the animals that live in it, about how they protect themselves… Then he sat down in front of me, in the sand, and asked me to do the same. I agreed, although I had already realized that his intentions were more than simply to start a conversation.
That is when he reached into his pocket and took out fossils of all sizes and colors and told me all about them, about how his whole family collected them in the desert and polished them and made them presentable. His family depended on this hard work to survive.
He then asked me if I was interested in a fossil. Despite having no interest, I asked him the price of several because, after all, he had spent much of his time on me and it wouldn’t hurt me to ask him.
He proposed a fairly high price. Then I asked for a lower price. He responded with an almost negligible discount, saying he could not offer a lower price because of all the work involved. However, he was very understandable, and gave me a smaller one as a gift to show his gratitude for wasting my time with him.
How could I accept that gift? Didn’t I’ve a moral obligation to buy one of the fossils?
I bought two of them, he thanked me with all his heart and said goodbye. I returned to my tent, thinking that thanks to the purchase of those fossils I had done the young man’s family a favor.
Shortly after I learned that this boy often approached the tent camps periodically, but not before buying the fossils in a nearby quarry at a much lower price. Imagine my face when I found that out!
Don’t reveal your purchasing power
Unfortunately, big purchasing power is a weakness, because the greater your purchasing power, the more money you are willing to pay for a product and therefore the greater the resistance of the shop owner to bargaining.
Try to be discreet, because we continually offer clues: our clothes, accessories, the number of visible souvenirs that we have already bought… even our home country can reveal our purchasing power. That’s why they always ask where we come from.
But probably the easiest way to mask our purchasing power is to have two wallets, one with most of our dirhams, well hidden, and another more visible one, that only has the money needed for the next purchase.
Thus, if at the point where we’re about to close the deal, the merchant refuses to meet our price, and we respond by opening the wallet and saying “this is all I’ve”, showing a few, small coins, we will probably have won the last battle.
Don’t let them see what you’re interested in
You see a product that you love and your excited eyes meet the cold analytical gaze of the shopkeeper. Congratulations: he’ll take it as a personal challenge to sell it at the most expensive price possible.
You must control your emotions: if you are going to be in a shop for half an hour, don’t spend twenty minutes on the same product, let alone ask other travel companions to come in and give their opinion.
Try to glance around to see what is in the shop. Make it seem that nothing interests you specifically, that you are just looking around. And if you want to take a second peek at that product that you liked so much, you can peruse another one that is next to it and look at it sideways. It might seem like an exaggeration, but the merchants continuously analyze us to know our intentions.
This reminds me of a strategy that, although risky, is effective if it’s well executed: ask for something you know beforehand that you don’t want. In the bargaining you will have some advantage since you’ve absolutely no interest in it and you can finish by proposing a price so low that you know in advance that the seller won’t accept it.
Since there’s no deal, you should show a reluctant face and leave the store: he might think that you are trying to set a trap, but I assure you that, as soon as he sees you reach the door, the prospect of a failed sale will exceed his reasoning.
He’ll ask you to come back, lowering the price of the product again, to which you will politely refuse. Then, taking a slight look back at the store and with a slight disinterest, you will point out the product you really want. The merchant, at the risk of wasting time without getting any benefit, will start with a much lower price.
The buyer might realize your strategy, or even try to make a joint sale for both products. But if you’ve enough ice in your veins it can be your ace in the hole.
Lack of time is your enemy
Probably the biggest difference between seller and traveler is that we only have some free time for shopping during our vacation and they have all the time in the world.
Therefore, if you are going to buy something, try not to do it when time is going against you are pressed for time or, if you’ve no other choice, hide it. Never show impatience, or you will get a bad deal. And if you’ve enough time don’t hesitate to enter different stores and check prices. Once you’ve done your market research, you can go to the store where the product was offered the lowest to begin the bargaining.
On the other hand, you can use the lack of time as your ally, as long as you accompany it with a marked lack of interest. For example, if it’s your last day in the city it may be a good idea to make it clear. If the merchant understands that he can lose a sale because you are not to come back, he’ll think that it’s preferable to sell at a lower price than not to sell at all.
Bargaining helpers don’t exist
Surely someone will come up to you offering to help you in the bargaining, either suggesting a good price or taking you to the store of a friend or family member who has better prices. You should never pay any attention to them: one of the main sources of income of Moroccans is commissions and, therefore, the more people are involved in a purchase, the more expensive the final price will be.
Similarly, if on a visit a local guide suggests going into a store there is no doubt that he’ll receive a commission and, therefore, less chance of bargaining will exist.
Don’t set a price
And we arrive at probably the biggest dilemma and the point that leads to the most discussion: What do we do with the price that the merchant initially proposes? Do we offer half, a quarter,…?
It’s often said that the seller will propose a price approximately three times the price we should aim for. But in my humble opinion, that statement doesn’t seem correct, because the initial offer of the seller will be based on his analysis of the situation and will always be different.
I can tell you from my own experience: one of my greatest pleasures is to sit in a little cafe near a store and, in a sneaky way, analyze what happens there. I’ve been able to verify how the initial offer proposed to a traveler was double, triple or even quadruple when compared to just a few minutes before, simply because the merchant sensed that he could get more money out of the person.
In addition, when you suggest a price, three things can happen:
a) It’s exactly the minimum price at which the seller is willing to sell it (which would be a coincidence, but everything can happen). Then, with almost total probability, he’ll offer you an intermediate price and the bargaining will begin. That is, you will pay more than you should.
b) It’s higher than the minimum price the seller was prepared to accept. See point a and add a few more dirhams.
c) It’s lower than the minimum price. This is the only possibility that offers an advantage when starting the bargaining, although if you go too low he may think that it’s not worth haggling with you.
Most of the time you will not have an advantage. My advice is to keep in mind how much you want to spend, and keep it to yourself. And under no circumstances tell the seller, even if he insists (he’ll insist).
Then he’ll progressively lower his initial offer, each time with a deeper discount. He might start with 70 dirhams, then say 50, then 40, then 35, then 30, then 27,… Do you see what I mean? Surely it’s profitable for him to sell it for 25 or even 20 dirhams: it’s at that time when you should offer 20, which he’ll either take or he may counter with 25.
Enjoy your purchase
I don’t want to forget to highlight something that tends to be ignored: buying something should bring you satisfaction. It’s useless to listen people who tell you that they are experienced travelers, and could’ve paid a lower price (believe me, that type of person is very common). If you bought it at a certain price, it’s because two things coincided: you liked the product and the price seemed fair to you. Why get upset thinking that you could’ve got it at a lower cost?
Once you’ve made your purchase, don’t doubt your decision. It’s your purchase, your memory, your reward for a hard bargaining process, and you deserve to enjoy it to the fullest.
And with this last tip we finish the article about bargaining in Morocco. Sorry for this post being longer than usual, but I think the subject deserves it. And remember, if you have any questions, or think that something has escaped me, don’t hesitate to comment. A hug to everyone!
Images published under Creative Commons 2.0 license
Authors (in order of appearance): USAFE AFAFRICA, ActiveSteve, C Henrik Anderson, Mr Seb, cheeseslave.
This article is part of our beginner’s guide. If you want to know more, we invite you to read our page with basic information about Morocco.