Bargaining in Morocco (Part 1)

Much has been said and discussed about how to haggle in Morocco, although most of the literature on the subject focuses on the figure of the trader and the aces he holds up his sleeve.

Bargaining in Morocco

I think it is necessary to approach it from a different perspective, as most of the trader’s efforts are focused on detecting our weaknesses. In other words, the real enemy when it comes to getting a good price is ourselves.

There are curves ahead, as today’s article, given its complexity, is long on words (so long that I had no choice but to divide it into two parts). So let’s start with the main weaknesses of the buyer:

You are neither doing him a favor nor offending him

A 50 m2 craft shop on a tourist street in Fez can be sold for approximately 60,000 euros. In the case of Jemaa el-Fnaa Square in Marrakech, it can easily exceed 100,000 euros.

These figures illustrate that, taking into account the cost of living in Morocco, traders do not live badly. So don’t think that by trying to get as low a deal as possible, or even by giving up, you are going to cause a family not to eat that day.

The traders are perfectly aware of this situation and will have no qualms about being deeply offended by your proposal; but, obviously, it will only be a matter of appearances.

Think about it, do you really think that, after dealing with dozens of potential buyers every day, they are going to take it personally? Obviously not, but the fact that you feel guilty is a weakness that they can exploit to their advantage.

The good cop-bad cop strategy of some shopkeepers is particularly curious: you propose a low price (according to your criteria) to which you respond by feeling terribly indignant about your audacity. Then another colleague approaches, very kindly tells you not to take it into account and advises you on the price to ask. Everything is a little theatre with the aim of making you feel guilty, generating a bond with the “friendly buyer” and taking you to his field.

It is also common that before closing a deal, or even after doing so, they tell you that they are losing money. In the heat of the bargaining you may believe them, but if you think about it coldly you will conclude that there is no point in closing a business deal that causes economic damage to the trader.

Being entertained does not mean buying

Shopkeepers like to make you feel at home: they invite you in, offer you tea, show you all their products as thoroughly as possible, … This has a double reason: to offer their hospitality (a characteristic strongly rooted in their culture) and to make you feel guilty if you do not buy something.

I am aware that it is difficult to keep a cool head when faced with kindness, because after all we are social beings, but precisely because this strategy is so effective, it is even more important to maintain a calm attitude.

Do not feel indebted because they have offered you a tea or you are wasting their time: think that it is part of the costs and risks that they have to assume. If they give you a taste of a product in your country or tell you about its benefits, do you feel obliged to buy it? Why would you do the opposite in Morocco?

I am going to tell you an anecdote that illustrates both this section and the previous one and that shows that I have also been weak.

One of the first times I travelled to Morocco I stayed in a tent in Merzouga. The first day we were given a camel ride and on the way back a boy approached me who I thought was also responsible for the accommodation in Merzouga. He then started to engage in a conversation with me.

He told me about the fauna of the desert, the animals that live there, how they take shelter… Then he sat down in front of me on the sand and asked me to do the same. I agreed, even though I had already noticed that his intentions were not limited to making conversation.

That’s when he took out fossils of all sizes and colors from his pockets and told me about their history, how his whole family collected them in the desert and at home polished them and made them presentable. A very sacrificial work on which they depended for their survival.

Then he asked me if I was interested in any fossils. Although I had no interest I asked him the price of several because, after all, he had spent much of his time with me and it wouldn’t hurt to ask him.

He proposed a rather high price. So I asked him for a discount, and he answered with an almost negligible discount, because he could not offer a lower price for all the work involved. However, he was very understanding, giving me a smaller one as a sign of gratitude for wasting my time with him.

How could I accept such a gift? Was I not morally obliged to buy one of the fossils?

I bought him two of them, he thanked me wholeheartedly and said goodbye. I returned to my haima, thinking that by buying those fossils I had done that young man’s family a favor.

Soon after, I learned that this boy used to go to the tents on a regular basis, but not before buying the fossils from a nearby quarry at a much lower price. Imagine the look on my face!

Don’t demonstrate your purchasing power

Unfortunately, great purchasing power is a weakness, because the greater the purchasing power, the more money you are willing to pay for a product and therefore the greater the resistance of the trader to haggle.

Try to be discreet, because we are constantly offering clues: our clothes, accessories, the number of visible souvenirs we have already bought, … even our origin (because the average income varies according to the country and the area) and that is 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 kept, and another more visible one, which only has the money needed for the next purchase.

Thus, if on the verge of closing a deal the trader refuses to go any lower and we respond by opening the wallet and saying “this is all I have”, showing a few small coins, we will probably have won the last battle.

And with this last weakness I close the article about how to haggle in Morocco, not without remembering that there is a second part that you can check in this link. A hug to all of you!

Bargaining in Morocco (Part 2)