Africa, Morocco

How to Bargain in the Souk

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My closest friends and family will tell you that I actually don’t like shopping.  I’m definitely missing that girl gene.  I do most of my shopping online and at my convenience.  When I travel, my desire to go shopping is even less because I would rather see the sights, meet the locals and eat.  This is true except of course when I went to Marrakech.  Another first…I knew I would be buying a lot of things in Marrakech so I brought a bigger bag and checked it in (yea, that pretty much never happens).  I’ve heard about and read about the Souk in Marrakech for years so I felt like there was a lot of build up to the point of our trip where we navigate through the Souk looking for treasures.

Let me first confess that I’m TERRIBLE at bargaining.  It used to make me so uncomfortable and I oftentimes felt bad for the seller because he/she had to make a living too.  I would make my mom do the bargaining for me because she has no shame (like this time here).  However, this time in Marrakech, I made a vow that I would make myself bargain and get a little uncomfortable.  By the way, this is a really great life skill if you haven’t yet mastered it.  I don’t mean buying things I mean convincing someone else to meet you half way.  Thanks to Lucy Bennett my vivacious travel buddy on this trip and now soul sister for life, who taught me how to bargain. These were the things I learned:

1) Do your research!  Before we went to Marrakech, I asked friends who went what they bought.  I also read blogs and guide books to find out what Marrakech and Morocco in general were “known” for.  The research also helped us find the best places to buy certain things.  Like the best place to find rugs and leather goods.  This is going to sound obvious (but you would be surprised that some of my travel buddies don’t do this) you should figure out the exchange rate before you go so in your head, you can do the math fast.  When we went it was about 10 Moroccan Dirhams to 1 US dollar so if something was 400 MAD it would be $40 USD.This was very handy information to know during our bargaining in the Souk.  Remember to bring cash because the majority of the shops don’t take credit cards.

2) Don’t buy the first thing you see.  The first day we wandered the Souk, we were all so tempted to buy everything right off the bat.  We decided to do our “research” and look around first.  Talk to each of the proprietors first and get a sense of what everything costs.  After all, knowledge is power.  If one guy agreed to give you the boots for 500 MAD you have bargaining power when you tell the guy next door.  We were surprised that most of the proprietors had business cards to help us find their shop again but it makes good business sense since the Souk is a maze.

3) Make a wish list.  I’m so thankful that I traveled with 3 bargain savvy chicks because they taught me so much.  After the first day in the Souk, we each put our heads together and made our must have wish list, the things that would be great if we found but not essential and how much we were willing to pay.  It was also great to discuss what each of us wanted because if we both wanted the same bag, that’s bargaining power too.

4) Decide how much you are willing to pay and stick with it!  On our first day we found these amazing Moroccan boots.  I didn’t even know I wanted them until my girlfriend tried them on.  As a group, we decided that we would all buy them so that we would have bargaining power and it would be a great momento to remember our trip.  The maximum amount we were willing to pay together was 2000 MAD which was about $50 USD per person.  What happens in the bargaining process is they throw out a number that sounds really high to you.  Then you throw out a number that sounds ridiculously low to them and you keep inching towards the middle.  The middle number has to be at or below the max amount you’re willing to pay.  We knew where the number should be based on our research and asking other shop owners and tourists what they paid.  The lovely gentlemen who sold us our rugs told us that we should not pay more than 500 MAD each so we stuck to that amount.

5) Be realistic.  I think it was being in the Souk and being swept away by the atmosphere and the fact that I was in freakin’ Morocco that I wanted to buy EVERYTHING.  Literally, there were door knockers in the shape of hands that I wanted to buy. You have to picture yourself wearing or using it back in your home.  Was I really going to use the bag for a weekend trip? Would those boots be cute styled with my New York wardrobe?  It might be from Morocco but I might not wear or use it when I get back.  This step was crucial during the make a wish list because a lot of things got crossed out.

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We could not find the Souk entrance for the life of us until we finally asked a local. This is the view of the entrance if your back is facing Cafe de France, the entrance to the Souk is to your right.  These were some of the things we bought in the Souk.

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The colorful pottery

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Bags, jewelry, and of course tchotchkes

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Beautiful slippers

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 A magic carpet or Moroccan wedding blanket

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Moroccan boots

  • Nat

    I think I’m missing that girl-loves-to-shop gene too 🙂 Love the rich colours in your photos… a real feast for the eyes!