Do you avoid cutthroat department-store sales even in a recession? Are flea markets your idea of a bad day in the park? Does the only auction you're interested in come with a paddle and Christie's Specialist that does most of your bidding legwork? You may avoid haggling in everyday life, but while on summer vacation, going shopping often means going to the much-dreaded bargaining table.
You'll likely face the inevitable at an antique shop, carpet dealer or jeweler with merchandise you know you can't get back home. But instead of just throwing out a number or paying what they ask, there's a more qualified approach to the art of haggling discovered in the world's most torrential bargaining waters: Marrakech, Morocco. That's where the city's top carpet souks negotiate their way to a deal that will make you a better vacation bargainer.
When visiting Morocco, hone your haggling skills. You'll need them when buying handmade wares.
10. Do your homework:
Your work begins before you've left home. Research what type of carpet you're looking for and what the equivalent item costs in your hometown. Our research led us to L.A.'s
, respected high-end carpet retailers. The experience allowed us to see examples of authentic Moroccan flat-woven and knotted pile rugs derived from sheep's wool.
9. Fight with the best:
Sure, you're interested in Morocco, but you arrive in Marrakech with carpets on your mind. While wooly Berber rugs are available throughout the medina, U.S.-based luxury resellers and celebrity buyers flock to La Porte d'Or and Chateaux des Souks for the best. Each souk is arranged along a congested strip, with second-floor or basement showrooms outfitted in plush sofas and 10-person staff ready to unroll. La Porte d'Or offers the added perk of celebrity photos David and Victoria Beckham, and Elton John.
8. Safety not in numbers:
Keep your entourage to a minimum. Arriving with a group of friends or children will distract your negotiating. Keep your shopping group no larger than you and your spouse (or one other person) while agreeing that only one person will be doing the bargaining. The surest way to let on that you're willing to pay more is a chatty entourage telling you "that's such a good deal" when you know otherwise. Additionally, don't arrive with your local guide regardless of how well recommended they come. Guides are notorious for working deals with local shops that result in a commission.
7. Don't dress to impress:
While in Marrakech, it's best to look as dumpy as possible when trying to score a bargain. White T-shirts and shorts work best with a pair of running shoes. Whatever you do, strip yourself of expensive watches and jewelry.
6. Don't be swooned:
As soon as you enter the carpet showroom, you're no longer on home turf. The staff will offer you mint tea or water, which comes with its own elaborate presentation created to take time and oblige you to spend. Keep in mind that if you don't buy a carpet, you may be asked to pay for the tea, which is why it's best to keep the beverages for later. As soon as you are seated, the salesmen will engage you in conversation aimed at finding your spending bracket. Keep your answers as vague as possible and simply state what type, color and size of carpet you are looking for as the show begins.
5. Get straight to the numbers:
A good salesperson will unroll more carpets than you ever thought existed, as a staff of 20 shop boys feverishly sweats away carrying the 100-pound rolled beasts, each more beautiful than the previous. The salesperson will likely avoid talking prices as long as possible, hoping to confuse with a display of carpet shock and awe. Once you see something you like, ask the price. If he brushes off the question or simply doesn't answer, stop everything and ask again. Knowing exactly how much every carpet costs will prevent them from getting into the much-dreaded
pad and paper
4. Surviving the pad and paper:
So you didn't heed our advice. Suddenly you find yourself with four carpets you love and a salesperson talking at auctioneer speed. He places a pen and pad in your hand and tells you to write your price. As you frighten at the idea of revealing your budget, he grabs the pen and pad away and scribbles down a price while telling you this is his "very lowest offer I have ever given." For the first time since you walked in, the showroom is silent as everyone watches. He passes you the paper and the price is "a very affordable $17,000 for all carpets including tax and shipping." Your stomach rolls in a knot as you realize that's more than your entire post-recession Visa card limit.
3. Just say no:
Your ripped cargo shorts and T-shirt with tajine stain did nothing to temper the fast-talking salesmen eager to take your money. The price for four rugs was outrageous and you are showing your displeasure by simply walking away. As you get up and say, "thank you but no thank you," he will likely grab back the pad and scribble down another number to keep you negotiating. If he doesn't, simply walk away and don't even consider tipping the carpet assistants as you leave. If you do leave, remember that you'll likely be unable to find that same rug if you return, as the showrooms are very poorly organized and re-finding it is high unlikely.
2. The 25% rule:
While some stores offer fixed prices that are closer to the actual value of the carpets for sale, others are a barterer's paradise where the 25% rule should be closely heeded. Whatever the salesperson says is the price of the carpet, simply counter the offer at 25% of that suggested price. While this is never what you will inevitable pay for the carpet, the low-ball counter-negotiation will give you a lot of leverage in the ensuing negotiations and likely lead to a price you feel comfortable with. If uncomfortable with the local currency, consider negotiating in U.S. dollars.
1. To ship or not to ship:
Once you have settled on a price you are happy with, try to negotiate the shipping and tax into the final price. The salespersons are surprisingly lax (or just exhausted) at the end of bargaining and often don't negotiate shipping as aggressively as they could. Adding on a hefty shipping fee means you'll ultimately save a few hundred dollars in the end. Also consider carrying on your purchases or checking them on your return flight.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.