6 Rules for Bargaining at a Street Market While Traveling

Posted in Africa, Morocco, On the Ground

When you’re traveling abroad, street markets can seem like terrifying places, especially when you don’t speak the language. The good news? There’s only one language you need to know and that’s the language of cash.

I’ve been traveling through Morocco this week and despite the fact that I don’t speak French or Arabic, I was able to score an amazing deal on a fantastic leather overnight bag that would have cost me over $500 in the United States. Instead, I bargained the price down to 800 dirhams — the equivalent of $90 USD. As my long-dead ancestors would say, “such a deal!”

So how did I score such a fantastic bargain? I haggled. It’s expected here in the souks of Morocco where the negotiation is half the fun of shopping. It may seem intimidating to enter into negotiations with a street vendor, but if you keep these tips in mind, you and the vendor can both walk away feeling good about the transaction.

1. Decide how much you want to pay.

Don’t let the negotiation dictate how much you’re going to spend. Decide how much you want to pay ahead of time and stick to that number. If you’re able to go lower than your ceiling, consider it a massive victory. If you end up paying what you wanted to pay, think of it as a normal sized victory. You got what you wanted! Good for you.

2. Comparison shop.

In a lot of these markets/souks/what have you, the vendors sell the same products bought from the same wholesalers. To get an accurate idea of what your item is worth, shop around and ask what the price is. Once you get a consensus, go to the shop where you felt most comfortable and start the bargaining process with the lowest price as your starting point. Tell the shopkeeper that you saw the same bag (or whatever you’re buying) in a stall just down the way and that the guy was charging X amount. That should instantly become the first offer from the business owner. Once you get that established, the real negotiating can begin.

3. Take the first price and half it.

Just like you, the seller wants the best deal possible. There’s no chance they’re going to start off with a reasonable price (unless there’s a sign that says “Fixed Price” or it operates more like a traditional retail store). A good rule of thumb is to take the first price offered and half it. In my bag negotiation, the man started off at 1350 after trying to convince me that he usually sells them for 2000 dirhams. Yeah right, buddy. I gave him a look and he instantly lowered the price to 1050. I came in at 700 (roughly half the 1350 original price) and we went back and forth from there.

4. Don’t start too low.

You’re not looking to insult anyone here. If you start too low, you have a possibility of setting yourself up to look like a chump who doesn’t know what they’re doing and the vendor won’t take you seriously. They may decide to not even negotiate with you. Enter the negotiation respectfully with a fair but low price and advance from there. Don’t go in thinking that the seller is trying to rip you off and, conversely, don’t try to rip them off. The goal should be a good deal for both parties involved.

5. Be prepared to walk away.

This is your biggest bargaining chip in any negotiation. Always be prepared to walk away from the deal. If you fall in love with what you’re trying to buy, you give the shopkeeper the upper hand. If you know you can live without that special pair of shoes, you can feel good about moving on to the next deal without guilt and that means you have the power in the negotiation. Get to the point in the bargaining that feels good and if you never reach that magic number that you’re willing to pay, simply walk out the door. Not only will you never be trapped into paying more for something than you want to, there’s also a good chance that the vendor will follow you out and offer you a better price. When in doubt, walk away.

6. Trust your gut.

Never buy something you don’t feel good about. You’ll regret it from the moment you hand over your money. Trust how you feel while you’re negotiating. Does the seller seem trustworthy? Does the shop look clean? Does the item you’re looking to purchase appear to be well-made? These are all considerations that should help you feel right about what you’re buying.

“Trustworthy,” though, is a difficult concept to gauge, so only consider this in a small way. Sometimes the people who seem most trustworthy are the ones who can take advantage of you the easiest, while the people you feel shady about may just have poor social skills. The cleanliness of the shop is a good indicator of someone who takes pride in their work, so definitely keep an eye out for the appearance of the store. As for the quality of the goods, you just have to know what you’re looking for. Examine your item. Check the stitching. Ask questions. If you’re going to fork over your hard-earned cash, get to know it. You have the right to inspect any item you’re going to buy. Also, make sure the item you walk out with is the one you intended to buy. Bait-and-switch is unfortunately a tactic some disreputable people use and it’s your job to stay on top of that.

If your gut tells you that any part of the purchase doesn’t feel right, put the item down and walk out of there. There’s always another bag waiting for you right down the road.

(Thanks to Mouna for her language assistance and Pompeian Olive Oil for flying me out to Morocco to see the olive oil making process. Without their assistance, I never would have made it to this wonderful country and learned these valuable negotiating tips.)

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