snake charmers in morocco

The Anatomy of a Haggle

Travelling with an individual who doesn’t particularly enjoy bargaining has opened up a whole new perspective on why haggling can be an uncomfortable situation for some travellers.

If you’ve travelled through places like India (not for beginners) or Morocco (also, difficulty level: hard) and you care about what you spend your money on and how much you spend, then prepare to find yourself in a series of battles for who can snag the best deal.

On the off-chance you’re not prepared, allow me to go inwards and dig deep into my Indian roots, as I share with you the sacred rules of bargain hunting in bazaars.

snake charmers in morocco
The Jemaa el-Fnaa Square in Marrakech, Morocco, is a hive of activity, day and night

Rule #1: Accept your fate

At souks, bazaars and markets someone will try to rip you off. Fact.

Accepting this destiny before going into battle is a wise maneuver. Get yourself in the right headspace.

Rule #2: Wander

Hey, you’re travelling, remember? You’re on holiday – don’t forget to make the experience unique and enjoyable.

Do some laps around the shops you like, smile at the shopkeepers and salespeople, even greet them in their local language. They’ll likely attempt to lure you into their store, they might even comment on what you’re wearing, as they figure out where in the world you’re from.

Continue to wander. Do not commit. By now, you should have a sense of what you want to buy, what the asking price is and perhaps even where you want to buy it from.

Rule #3: Fake it till you make it

You’re shopping. Act like a shopper.

Carry with you some shopping bags (empty or filled), take a closer look at some souvenirs, caress that fabric, ring those bells, try on those shoes, flaunt that necklace. The trick is to create the perception of being an interested buyer – hey, maybe you are.

Shopping bags are a symbol of your preparedness to make another purchase and salespeople will be more inclined to match your price point if they believe you’re there to play rather than spectate.

Rule #4: Let the Games begin!

Let’s do a quick recap.

  • You’re in the right headspace to walk away
  • You’ve got a feel of the environment
  • You’ve greeted or interacted with some shopkeepers/salespeople. You’ve made yourself visible

Even if that Goat-leather laptop bag you want has a price tag on it, always ask for their price.

Listen to those numbers loud and clear. You’ve just landed your first blow.

At this point, unless you’re under significant time constraints or don’t care what you pay (in which case, this article is pointless), don’t commit to a price – simply thank the salesperson and return the item to where you found it.

Go for a walk around the store.

A salesperson makes a move in one of the many Bazaars in New Delhi, India

Rule #5: Silence is Gold(en)

Here’s another expression for you: ‘less is more’. I can’t think of a more appropriate setting to apply this wisdom.

Talk less. Pay less. Get more.

By now you’ve wandered. You’ve chatted. You’ve enquired. You’ve wandered again.

Although you might have narrowed your purchase down to an item you like, my advice is to be comfortable knowing you might not get it at the price you want and that is OK.

Rule #6: Numbers

Next: divide whatever the salesperson said by three- that’s your price.

SALESPERSONS PRICE / 3 = $YOUR PRICE

Now stay there. Stay. Stay a little longer.

Walk away.

In my experience, during this phase of the negotiation, you’ll typically be propositioned to state how much you really want to pay for the item in question.

“Ok. Tell me how much you pay”

“What’s your price?”

“Say last price”

Persevere with the number you calculated from the earlier arithmetic until you sense the salesperson’s interest waning.

This is a cornerstone moment—time to make a call.

How much do you want this? How much time do you have left in your holidays? Is this item unique to the city or country you’re visiting? Are you late on giving someone a gift?

Depending on your answers to these questions, you might want to give yourself a little wiggle room and go up to half the asking price. That is:

SALESPERSONS PRICE / 2 = $YOUR PRICE

Otherwise, revert to Rule #5.

Rule #7: Always be nice

Irrespective of the outcome of your negotiations, the engagement must remain thankful, respectful and in high spirits at all times.

Camel owners in Giza make an offer to ride their beast

Finally, I offer these suggestions in light of my own experiences travelling through fascinating countries like Morocco, India and Mexico. It’s important to always apply personal and contextual judgment if you find yourself in circumstances similar to the one described in this article.

And while it feels nice to get a good deal, I’ve realised that the true measure of a local experience is found in sharing a midnight meal with a companion, getting a haircut from a street vendor, praying in a temple or mosque, completing a sunrise run or simply chilling among twilight hues.

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snake charmers in morocco

The Anatomy of a Haggle

Travelling with an individual who doesn’t particularly enjoy bargaining has opened up a whole new perspective on why haggling can be an uncomfortable situation for