Unless you don’t mind paying a hefty price for an object of a much lesser value, when shopping in the Arab world you won’t be spared the time-honored tradition of haggling.
Mastering the techniques of haggling will surely make you enjoy the whole process. It’s a game that can be fun so apply the ones below and you’ll be able to score on reasonable prices.
1. Come prepared
Check beforehand what the real prices would be. You can easily find how much a taxi ride should cost in a certain city and then work with that info. Big items like carpets can vary greatly in price, but it pays off to learn beforehand in what range you should stay. Of course there’s no online pricelist for any tiny object you intend to buy on your trip, so just stick to the essentials and bigger items. It often helps to check with the staff at your hotel what the right prices should be.
2. Arm yourself with patience & gaming attitude
Be ready to haggle and make it an inseparable part of shopping on any market. Carry yourself with confidence and wearing dark sunglasses can help to add to the mystery.
3. Learn a few Arabic phrases
The simple phrase Salam Aleykum, which means “hello”, will start things off nicely. Expect to answer some questions of where you’re from and don’t feel bad about lying that you’ve been in the country longer than you have in reality. It’s all part of the game and you don’t want to expose the sensitive piece of information that it’s only your second day there.
4. Play it hard
Let the vendor begin by offering a price. Next, give a counter-offer of what would be below your desired price point. Lonely Planet even suggests cutting straight to 1/3 of the initially offered price. The vendor will go down and if it’s still far from where you want to be, throw in some commonly used lines like “I’ve seen this item in another market for xxx” or just say that you don’t have so much cash with you.
5. Don’t make friends before closing a deal
Stay far from having a cup of tea with a vendor before making the sale. You’d put yourself in a much worse bargaining position. Tea can be drunk / cigarettes can be smoked / hands can be shook only after closing the deal!
6. Don’t show your interest
Even though you’re longing for that little crafty item, don’t let it shine! You must look indifferent and if you see any tiny defect, point it out. The sales person should think that you’d be fine without it or buying just something similar from any other store.
7. Walk away
Walking away is the ultimate trump card. It is the last thing you can try if the salesman is not willing to lower the price as much as you’d want. However, be ready that in some cases, it might be the end of the deal and you’ll end up without your object of desire, unless you have the guts to return and pay your skilled vendor his price.
The tactics are usually the same across the Arabic countries, no matter if you travel to Morocco or Saudi Arabia. It’s part of the culture and you might even miss it when shopping the boring old way at your local store. Fixed prices might be safer, but definitely less fun!
Do you have any other tips or notable experiences with haggling? We’d love to hear about it!
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